That there is a tragedy in our hands goes without saying. Cyclone Freddy has seen one of the worst tragedies in history. As I write, over 225 people have so far died, with over 40 missing and over 88 000 displaced.
Unlike recent cyclones of Ana, Gombe and Idai, the current cyclone which hit the ground in the country on Friday has seen landslides in affected areas, especially in the Southern Region. The run-off resulting in swelling of rivers has led to massive destruction of houses, roads, bridges and crops.
The disaster has shown us that we spend much time politicking instead of concentrating on the real things that have kept us back that we take pride in being in the Least Developed Countries bracket. We let politics (should we say politicians) divide us instead of keeping our eyes on the ball.
At the funeral service for some of the victims in Chilobwe, Blantyre City South parliamentarian Noel Lipipa, guess who saved his soul? It was Richard Chimwendo Banda, Minister of Local Government. For once, we saw the ruling Tonse Alliance leadership acknowledging the efforts by Democratic Progressive Party leaders Peter Mutharika, Kondwani Nankhumwa and Patrick Kabambe in visiting the victims?
In which pocket is this tolerance always kept?
The disaster has also shown us how much Malawians are of goodwill. We saw various efforts by citizens working for the common cause of sourcing and mobilising donations for the victims of the floods. The names of those who put things together on the ground are too many to mention.
The corporate world and international partners also moved in swiftly to pump in money for the cause. We will ask later why these had more confidence in the citizen efforts, religious and relief organisations than the presidential initiative.
Apparently, everyone was in action. Sadly, the Department of Disaster Management (Dodma) seemed so overwhelmed to coordinate the relief efforts. Could that be because of lack of funding? Not at all. It was DoDma that first sounded the alarm that a tragedy was looming.
For that matter, in July last year, Dodma and the World Food Programme (WFP) established a humanitarian staging area at Bangula in Nsanje. The main purpose was to fast-track disaster coordination and response in the Lower Shire.
D o d m a s a i d t h e establishment of the area would help humanitarian par tners to coordinate, respond effectively and timely manage disasters as they occur. This was necessary from the experience that the Lower Shire is cut off when disaster strikes.
With such preparation, Dodma is yet to tell the world how far the staging area stocked commodities and essential equipment in the area to provide assistance in times like these. My guess is as good as mine, little has been done to stock that National Food Reserve Agency site in Bangula, Nsanje.
For that matter, the current disaster is a wake up call that more needs to be done to decentralize Dodma operations. It does not work well for search and rescue efforts in Karonga to be coordinated sorely from Capitol Hill.
I n f a c t , D o d m a commissioner Charles Kalemba said that time that such facilities would also be established in the upper South in Blantyre, Lilongwe or Ntcheu in the Centre, Mzuzu and Karonga in the North and Mangochi in the Eastern Region. Where these plans are, God knows.
And then, the education sector has suffered, as Government closed public schools. This was a time the schools were expected to start writing exams. With many still camping in the schools, is there any hope the children will return to classes when the storm if over?
While we are at it, the disaster has also shown us the gaps we have as a nation. It was sad to listen to Minister of Defence Harry Mkandawire that the Malawi Defence Forces was handicapped, that helicopters in rescue efforts would have to be sourced from neighbouring countries.
And, one look at the rescue boat that was swept off at Nkando in Mulanje tells how under-resourced we are as a people.
When everything is said and done, it is time we started counting the losses. How much will it take to reconstruct the roads? What about the trauma that has engulfed us for the good friends and relatives we have lost?
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