Climate change erodes identity, belonging

Climate change erodes identity, belonging

Climate change fuels migration, loss of identity and belonging in sub-Saharan Africa.

For example, flooding induced by Cyclone Freddy in March 2023 triggered unplanned migration to upland camps and neighbouring Mozambique for refuge.

Such movements make people lose their identity and sense of belonging.

Cyclone Freddy affected more than 2.2 million people across Malawi’s Southern Region, with 659 000 displaced, 679 confirmed dead, 537 missing and 2186 injured.

Some of those displaced sought refuge in 747 camps set in schools, prayer houses, health facilities and other communal structures, according to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma).

Others migrated to neighbouring Mozambique, confirms an immigration official at Muloza Border Post in Mulanje District.

He recalls: “After the disaster, I saw some people crossing to Milanje District on the Mozambican side carrying household items. They crossed the border to seek refuge.

Survivors wade through floods induced by Cyclone Freddy in Southern Region

“Two days after the disaster, social media reports that Mulanje Mountain was about to explode increased fear among mountainside people who were already in shock,” he recalls. 

The disaster limited the displaced people’s access to socio-economic services, including healthcare, education and work.

Food scarcity keeps worsening months after Cyclone Freddy destroyed crops almost ready for harvesting.

Mulanje District Agricultural Development Office estimates the loss and damage at 19 297 hectares, especially maize, pigeon peas, soya beans, rice and cassava.

The border district was among the worst hit, with 25 307 households displaced, 52 652 taking shelter in 123 camps, 151 confirmed dead and 219 missing.

District social welfare officer Martha Mkisi says women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities were worst affected.

Official figures show the cyclone affected 24 082 children, 1 536 elderly persons and 564 persons with disabilities in Mulanje.

“As a department and our partners, we have been providing basic needs including food and non-food items, materials for reconstruction and psychosocial support to the affected families,” she said.

Mkisi says that most affected families have more children than they can adequately support, a call to family planning.

“Government and partners should come up with subsidised housing programmes as most affected households cannot afford building materials and construct disaster resilient houses,” she explains.

In Traditional Authority Njema, area development committee chairperson Gavinet Goodson says 25 children lost their parents.

Group village head Ndala lost his three houses as the cyclone dumped rockslides in his devastated community, leaving it no longer habitable.    

“Even Dodma declared this area as disaster-prone and not habitable, so we were advised to relocate. As you can see, there is no one here,” he says.

Gender-based violence (GBV) cases were reported in some evacuation camps and affected zones.

This compelled me to intensify community activism and awareness of GBV prevention, psychosocial support and climate change. I also promote green energy and climate justice online, as carbon emissions from wealthy nations fuel global warming and climate-related disasters in developing countries.

Besides distributing food and other relief items, the provision of shelter to families whose houses were destroyed remains scanty.

Joyce Banda Foundation International (JBFI) has been providing relief items while constructing houses for the affected households.

Environmental activist Gresham Kamnyamata calls for greater investment in ramping up community awareness to help people build back better and better anticipate disaster.

This will help them prepare for disasters and move upland on time.

“Their identity may not be lost because they will go along with whatever they have and do their own habitats,” he says.

Kamnyamata urges government and humanitarian agencies to provide the survivors with food aid, fast-maturing seeds, drought-tolerant crops, fast-multiplying livestock and cash support to help them adapt and continue with their usual life upland.

He also underscored the need to sensitise affected communities to relocate from disaster-prone areas to reduce the loss of identity, belonging, property and even lives.

“The affected households should be supported with materials for the construction of strong houses that meet the standards set by the National Construction Industry Council of Malawi,” he says.

Some quarters have called for continued research in disaster-hit areas on agriculture, health, education, environment and water, sanitation and hygiene.

 There is a great need to galvanise efforts in fighting against climate change to prevent and reduce the devastating effects of climate change.

All stakeholders should work together to implement sustainable disaster risk reduction and climate change resilient programmes instead of emphasising recovery.

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