Three hundred and twenty-six dead, more than 183,000 displaced and 500,000 people affected: four days after Cyclone Freddy hit, the still provisional toll continues to rise in southern Malawi, bereaved by one of the worst natural disasters in its history. Thursday, March 16, the search was still in progress to try to find survivors in the middle of desolate landscapes where floods, strong winds and landslides took everything away. Most townships in the ten affected districts remain inaccessible to relief, according to the statement issued by the disaster management department.
Roads and bridges were destroyed, but also schools, health centers, power lines. Blantyre, the economic capital with a population of 1 million, was heavily affected. The heavy rainfall that fell on the surrounding hills turned into torrents of mud and in a few hours undermined the foundations of houses built of raw brick. The tin roofs collapsed on the occupants. More than 300 emergency accommodation centers have been opened to accommodate the victims. The only glimmer of hope: the rains have almost stopped and the floods that caused the main rivers to overflow should see their level drop by the end of the week.
“The damage we have to deal with is much greater than the means at our disposal”, warned the president, Lazarus Chakwera, appealing for international assistance. A two-week national mourning has been declared.
“Collapse of the economy”
This tragedy comes as this poor and landlocked country in southern Africa is going through a deep social and health crisis. “The Covid-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine caused the economy to collapse. This country has to import almost everything. The local currency was devalued by 25% and inflation soared. It also faces a cholera epidemic of unprecedented magnitude since data exist. More than 50,000 people have been infected”recalls Marion Péchayre, head of mission at Doctors Without Borders in Blantyre.
The NGO, which provides cervical cancer screening and treatment in the city’s largest hospital, has suspended its program to make its equipment, including an operating theatre, available to disaster victims. It participates in the humanitarian response by distributing drinking water because one of the major fears now lies in a strong resurgence of the epidemic.
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