We, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and Centre for Development of People, have learnt with great shock the devastation the continuous downpour has caused on Malawi.
In the last fortnight, Malawi has been at the receiving end of Tropical Cyclone Bansi, which exacerbated seasonal rains in the country leading to floods which has affected almost half of the country – that is 15 districts have been directly affected. Karonga, Phalombe, Nsanje, Blantyre, Zomba, Rumphi, Machinga, Mangochi, Salima, Mulanje, Chikhwawa are amongst the districts that have been highly affected by the floods which have led to rivers bursting their banks, houses and entire villages being swept away and large chunks of land still submerged with some under three metres of water .The scale of this damage made the President of Republic of Malawi His excellency President Peter Mutharika to declare the flood situation in Malawi as a national disaster on 13th January 2015.
According to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) a total of 27, 000 household, representing approximately 135, 000 people have been affected. The number of people who have died as of yesterday is still 176. Besides, it is reported that over 50, 000 pupils are unable to attend classes either because their schools are being used as camps for those affected by the floods or they have been destroyed.
A special case is given of Phalombe district, 39 schools have been closed and turned into camps for flood victims in the process keeping out 54, 833 primary school pupils. Amongst those adversely affected by this catastrophe are children and women. It is for no doubt that we are in a crisis that requires urgent and robust solutions in the best interest of the nation not only from government but also all key stakeholders both locally and internationally.
We, at CHRR and Cedep, applaud all stakeholders including the Malawi media, NGOs, development partners both locally and internationally, who have responded swiftly in providing technical, material and financial assistance to the victims and government in general.
We also commend Malawi President Peter Mutharika for taking lead in government’s response to this emergency. Despite the material, technical and financial support that has started coming in the country, it remains undeniable fact that there is still need for more assistance to complement the already existing strides made over the recent days to ensure that the plight of the victims is adequately addressed.
It is clear that there are still some other affected areas which are yet to benefit from the recent donated resources and other support which amongst other reasons is due to inadequate resources.
In addition, the metrological experts have predicted that the central and northern region of the country may also be hit severely heavy rains that could be devastating as the Shire valley impact All this coupled by Malawi government’s indication that it needs K5 billion to adequately provide relief and rehabilitation, we at CHRR and Cedep would like to join hands with the Malawi President and the government by renewing our appeal for increased increased national and global response to complement the current efforts being done by the Malawi government and other key stakeholders to alleviate the problem at hand bearing in mind that human rights issues are at stake due to the catastrophe.
In the same development, we also implore the Malawi government and all other national and international actors to adhere to operational guidelines on human rights protection in situations of natural disasters just to ensure that human rights concerns or issues are addressed in both their preparedness and response mechanisms.
While natural disasters have been seen as situations that create challenges and problems mainly of humanitarian nature, it has been increasingly been recognized that human rights protection also needs to be provided in these contexts. The past experiences of similar disasters, both locally and internationally, have highlighted the need to be attentive to the multiple human rights challenges victims of such disasters may face. Unequal access to assistance, discrimination in aid provision, enforced relocation, sexual and gender-based violence just to mention a few are some of human rights issues that ought to be paid attention to.
We at CHRR and Cedep, of course, realize that must of the human rights violations committed during natural disasters are not intended or planned and that they are often as a result of inappropriate policies, neglect or oversight; and also insufficient resources and capacities to prepare and respond to the consequences of the disasters.
However, we still hold that if government, national and international actors pay special attention to relevant human rights guarantees in situations of natural disasters some possible human rights violations can be avoided in the best interest of the victims of the current disaster. It is in this regard that we urge government, and all other players, to adhere to both local and international operational guidelines on human rights protection in situations of national disasters towards the lasting solution to the current catastrophe.
- Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapence
- Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo