Every year, the Lower Shire district of Chikhwawa gets in the news for reasons that are both bad and lethal: flooding, drought and hailstorms. This has been happening since newspapers could print stories, but communities in the district are now saying enough is enough. They want Chikhwawa to be disaster-proof. Can they pull it off? Bright Mhango toured the district recently to hear their interventions.
People under Group Village Head (GVH) Billy in Traditional Authority Ngabu in Chikhwawa are no strangers to disasters. Everyone knows a family that has lost a house, field of crops or child to harsh winds, locusts, floods or drought.
The villages are situated in the vicinity of Nzengo and Nyamapovu rivers which swell to serious and perilous levels when it rains.
“This year, for example, it rained for about 10 days without letting up much and with the narrow culverts that Mota-Engil has constructed where the river crosses the road, the river swelled up too much with water creeping back to the villages.
“Crops were swept away. We live with danger here,” said GVH Billy.
The village has formally complained to Mota-Engil about the curvets, but the structures are just one part of the problem.
Sopholiano Chiputu chairs the Village Civil Protection Committee (VCPC) which was created with the intervention of an NGO, Eagles Relief and Development Programme, which was in turn funded by Christian Aid to implement disaster reduction programmes.
“We were taken to Blantyre and trained in basic aspects. When we returned, we sat down and listed our threats which we found to be drought, hailstorms, floods as well as pest and disease outbreak. We then strategised on how to deal with each of the threats.
“To counter droughts, we started stocking livestock which we can sell when the crop fails. We also have village saving loans which give us income during times of hunger. To fight floods, we embarked on a reforestation project. We plant trees along the river banks and discourage farming too close to the river.
“Against disease outbreaks, we saw mosquito nets being distributed by government. We demand that every household should have a toilet and we are pushing for an under-five clinic to be established right here in the village,” said Chiputu.
He said the villagers are encouraged to avoid wastage and to use pesticides to protect their harvest.
Eagles Relief and Development Programme also provided tree seedlings which are being planted around houses to shield people from wind.
When Nation on Sunday visited Billy Village recently, some of the planted trees that dot the horizon were as high as five metres.
“The idea is to make people resilient in the face of climate change and our interventions here include village savings and loans, conservation agriculture, afforestation and livestock rearing,” said Lovemore Makaloka, project facilitator for Eagles Relief and Development Programme.
The interventions by Eagles are also happening in 24 other villages, according to Makaloka.
Fast forward about 50 kilometres to Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngowe’s domain and in Khungubwe Village, the villagers are also actively participating in uplifting themselves.
The interventions in Khungubwe are being spearheaded by the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), which also receives funding from Christian Aid.
Apart from conservation agriculture, village saving loans, the VCPC has developed a network of an early warning system. Because of the system, there has not been flood-related deaths since 2011.
Chakhumata Yokoniya is chairperson of the VCPC in the area and he toldNation on Sunday that after the training that EAM gave them, people in the area acquired contacts with officers at the Department of Metrological Services and Climate Change.
He said people who live in upstream areas receive texts, via phones, of weather forecasts of up to five days and on probable flooding.
“We also have megaphones. If we get the warning, we go around the villages to warn people so that those who live in potentially dangerous areas should evacuate,” said Yokoniya.
And conveniently, EAM constructed an evacuation centre on the upper part of the village for people to take refuge when the water is high. The centre also serves as a school when the water is not running the show.
Perthius Kayira is the project officer for EAM in the area.
“EAM provided the VCPC for the villages along the Lalanje River with disaster risk reduction training. The VCPC is an umbrella of many interventions. We also trained 2 450 farmers in T/A Ngowe in afforestation, village savings and loans, conservation agriculture and low carbon technology; that is stoves that use less wood,” said Kayira.
So far, all is well for the villagers. The real VCPCs will, however, be seen when the donors wrap up their training and presence.
Only time will tell.