Cyclone Freddy Devastates Communities, Farmers, Heightens Food Insecurity — Global Issues

Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management says 2.2 million people have been affected, with 676 dead and 538 missing after Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi earlier this month. Credit: Red Cross
  • by Charles Mpaka (sonjeke, ma-la-uy)
  • Associated Press Service

One of those desolate fields with dried corn stalks lying flat on the ground, if not completely plowed, belonged to Eliza Mponya.

The nearly hectare field used to be the lifeline of a single mother and four young children.

It didn’t give her all the corn the family needed for the whole year, but it still gave Mponya and her children enough to bring them closer to the next harvest.

According to her estimate, this year, she will harvest enough corn for the whole family until the end of November.

“We have good rain here, and we are lucky that my son has found farming work in Mozambique, and we manage some fertilizer through what he earns.

“But now, after all the efforts and just as we were close to reaping the rewards, we have suffered this loss. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

Malawi is in mourning due to the worst natural disaster that has hit the country in recent memory.

Exactly one year after being ravaged by tropical storms Ana and Gombe, from which the country has yet to recover, Tropical Freddy struck quite brutally.

After passing through Madagascar and Mozambique, the storm entered Malawi on March 11, 2023. From the afternoon of March 12, rain fell on 10 of the 13 counties in the southern region of the country over the next 72 hours.

Rivers burst their banks; raging streams of water flowed through improbable landscapes, and beyond anyone’s expectations, several mud avalanches pushed down huge boulders from mountainous areas, in some cases combined, swept away entire villages, destroying houses and people below at night.

President Lazarus Chakwera declared a state of disaster, calling for help, a plea that both the local and international communities have generously responded to.

The scale of devastation is unprecedented in any natural disaster that Malawi has experienced. A draft situation report released by the Department of Disaster Management (DoDMA), a government agency, on Wednesday, March 29, shows that up to 2.2 million people have been affected so far. ; 676 people have been killed and 538 are missing – many of them feared buried in landslides and the rubble of collapsed buildings or swept away to unknown lands.

DoDMA said that at the appropriate time, police will declare the missing people dead.

According to reports, up to 2,000 people are being treated for injuries of various degrees, some of whom are still in more than 760 evacuation camps hosting more than 650,000 people who have been displaced in affected counties.

Up to 405 km of road infrastructure was damaged, 63 health facilities and nearly a million water and sanitation facilities were affected.

According to the report, the sector hardest hit is agriculture, the mainstay of Malawi’s economy. More than 2 million farmers lost crops and livestock, more than 179,000 hectares of crop fields were destroyed.

Mponya’s field was among the numbers counted.

Her corn will be ready for harvest around the end of April. Now the flood has harvested it, and Mponya is broken.

She told IPS: “I have never experienced anything like this in my life.

On March 23, 2023, the Department of Agriculture released its own assessment of the damage the storm caused to the agricultural industry in the region. It has yet to release a report on its assessment and interventions it will implement to provide relief to affected farmers.

However, in reality, the storm exacerbated the food security situation for millions of people during the year. This comes as the government is distributing food to 3.8 million food-starved households, an operation aimed at helping them get through the next harvest, which is currently affected by the storm.

In an earlier forecast, the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET), a global food security monitoring operation supported by USAID, said the southern region could record a drop of 30 to 50% in the harvest of maize, Malawi’s staple food crop and a key player in the economy.

According to the report, this will cause poor households to run out of food reserves by the end of August instead of October, which is common for most such households in a good year.

FEWSNET says limited and delayed access to fertilizer for most farmers who rely on the government’s fertilizer subsidy program has been impacted by logistical and procurement challenges during the growing season. crops and due to high commodity prices in the conventional market, this has pushed agricultural inputs out of reach for most of them.

FEWSNET compiled the report before Hurricane Freddy hit the country.

Christone Nyondo, a researcher at the MwAPATA Institute, a local independent agricultural policy advisory body, said the storm had dealt a blow to household food security in the region and the country as a whole.

According to Nyondo, families with crop failures will struggle to cope without outside help. Therefore, he proposed to support affected farmers to replant short-term maize varieties.

He added that crops that can still thrive when grown in residual moisture conditions should be encouraged to provide a short-term coping mechanism for households as they recover.

However, Nyondo argues that Malawi needs to invest in proactive and long-term disaster response measures as these natural shocks will continue to occur in the face of climate change. .

According to Nyondo, an agricultural economist, for a long time, Malawi has focused a lot of efforts on recovering from natural disasters. It is time for the country to rethink its policies deeply and invest significantly in early warning systems and transition planning based on intelligence gathered from these systems, he said. this early warning system.

“Specific interventions to protect food security will vary seasonally depending on the nature of the disaster anticipated. If the disaster is predicted to be widespread drought, then planning ahead on strategic investments in irrigation infrastructure will be key,” Nyondo told IPS by email.

In any case, however, we need to invest more in irrigation, storage and other critical infrastructure without waiting for disaster. That is the surest way to protect our food security. Yes, it will be expensive but it is also necessary.”

Back in Mulanje district, Mponya doesn’t know how she will recover.

Unlike some in the village, she suffered no damage to her home or lost any family members. But she says it was a tragedy in her life that for the first time as a farmer, the 51-year-old woman managed to harvest almost nothing in her field after months of hard work, leaving her He had to face a year-long struggle for food.

When asked if she had a way out, Mponya stared blankly and said, “I don’t know what to do.”

Report of the UN IPS Office

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service


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