‘Flood’ babies agony

‘Flood’ babies agony

Cecelia Banda, a displaced woman based at a camp for the internally displaced in Nkhotakota District, should be basking in the joy of giving birth to her first child.

But she is not. Her life and that of the baby, she laments, is clouded in pain.

“The pain comes from my displacement and my husband’s disappearance,” the 18-year-old opened up in an interview on Thursday.

“And there’s also uncertainty around my baby’s future due to my destitution,” Banda added.

Banda fled her flood-ravaged home on Chauma Island, heavy with an eight-month-old pregnancy to become one of  hundreds at Ngala Camp in Dwangwa.

Flash floods hit Nkhotakota in February and March this year after incessant rains in the region left affected areas inaccessible due to widespread damage to infrastructure.

Fell prey to unprocessed divorce: Sitima

The floods left six people dead and affected over 14 000, half of whom found refuge in 12 camps. Eleven of those camps have since been decommissioned.

Originally from Mzembe Village, Traditional Authority Kanyenda in the district, Banda gave birth last month at Nkhotakota District Hospital, 60 kilometres away from the camp.

“When floods hit our homes, I left in a boat that carried pregnant women and other vulnerable people. My husband left in a different boat.

“Since then, we haven’t met and his phone is not reachable,” she recounts, her somewhat soft voice clogged with emotions.

Asked whether she thinks something bad could have happened to him, Banda responds: “I don’t know. I can’t figure out what might have happened to him. What depresses me is that we took a bit of time to conceive. It could have been more joyous to welcome this child with my husband.”

She admits that his absence has created a yawning gap, especially such that she battles to look after the child alone.

Banda observes that her fellow nursing mothers at the camp, who have their husbands, are better off because their men are helping them to care for their babies.

“Their men do piecework and are able to buy their children’s basic needs. I am all alone and I can’t be moving around, hunting for money with a new-born child,” she says.

Banda says the child has a single piece of cloth—meaning that when she washes it, the baby is exposed to harsh weather.

“I don’t have a blanket to keep the child warm,” she complains while adjusting her blue-patterned wrapper covering her sleeping child.

Mirriam Chirwa, 22, is also a single mother at the camp. She gave birth last week. Her husband, she says, dumped her earlier while pregnant.

“Being a single mother at the camp is really tough especially considering that I also have to look after my five-year-old first born,” says Chirwa, whose baby has one set of clothes.

As the camps are being decommissioned, she fears rebuilding her life alone will be a mountainous task.

But Anita Banda, 18, is one of the lucky new mothers as her husband also lives at the camp.

“He provides for us and as I am speaking, he has gone to do some pieceworks,” she says.

Chisomo Sitima has also fallen prey to unprocessed divorce. Her husband, whom she said had moved to Nkhata Bay months  earlier after securing a job, cut ties after their house in Dwangwa was washed away.

The 26-year-old spent two months in camp. Homeless, she decided to follow her husband only to find that he remarried.

“He stopped supporting the family once we became victims of floods. I am struggling to raise our two childrenincluding an eight-month old,” said Sitima. She now stays with her single mother.

As Nation on Sunday crew visited her residence, a roughly repaired house standing amidst debris of floods destruction, they had no food for lunch.

Nkhotakota District Council social welfare officer McDonald Mpichi said the district has seen a surge in cases of fathers deserting their families.

“They seem to be running away from responsibility since their livelihoods were taken away,” he said.

Mpichi said the council is engaging with the families so they can track the errant fathers to take up the responsibilities of supporting their families.

But the social welfare officer said that the district authorities do not have specific interventions to support children born at the camp with clothes and other basic needs.

The Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare spokesperson Pauline Kaude did not immediately respond to our questionnaire.

Rough road to child bearing

The road towards child bearing, as per the new mothers words, was a perilous one. The women complained about not having enough food.

Cecelia Banda recalls that she was prescribed anaemia medication in her late moments of the pregnancy.

“The doctors advised that I should not take the drugs on an empty stomach. This forced me to avoid taking the medication in the morning because there was no breakfast,” she remembers, her voice breaking.

On her part, 22-year-old Melesia Zulu said she feared she could have pregnancy complications due to lack of food.

“I remember we used to eat once a day. I feared for the worst. It’s God’s grace that, I think, sustained me,” she said while proudly glancing at her child.

The pain professed by the flood hit expectant mothers in Nkhotakota bear echoes of the suffering women face during disasters, according to Malawi Health Equity Network executive director George Jobe.

He says the implications are that lack of food and dodgy treatment adherence hurt the foetus development, and risks defeating the fight against martenal  mortality.

Jobe says the country must learn lessons from past disasters so it can create a conducive environment for vulnerable groups.

“We need to find a way where we can provide the expectant mothers, children and those with HIV special food.

“We need to conduct studies that can enlighten us on how we can do better in future disasters,” said the network’s head.  

The 2023 World Health Organisation data show that Malawi’s maternal mortality, at 381 deaths per 100 000 live births, is among the highest in the world.

Neonatal mortality, at 26 deaths per 1 000 live births, is also high and accounts for about half of the deaths among under five  children.

The post ‘Flood’ babies agony first appeared on Nation Online.

The post ‘Flood’ babies agony appeared first on Nation Online.