Sunday, January 25, 2015

Watered Down

View from the waiting area at the airport.
Normally, you can see a tree row at
the far end of the tarmac.
Although the rains were late again this year (see my host and dusty earlier post about Tropical Christmas), they made up for it by arriving with a vengeance. In fact, they arrived right as we were preparing to board our plane to Capetown. The whole airport shut down for approximately two hours while we waited for the skies to empty. We returned to a green and glorious Malawi.

Unfortunately, there can be too much of a good thing. Following an enormous typhoon off the coast of Mozambique the week of January 13th, fifteen of Malawi’s twenty-eight districts were catastrophically flooded. Thus far, the government’s department of disaster management affairs has announced a state of emergency, mostly in the southern region. Estimates are over 60 dead, 150 missing and 200,000 without homes. This does not include damage to just-planted fields and loss of livestock, which are nearly too many to count.

My company doesn’t work in those areas, but I have plenty of friends who do. One friend is managing camp in Nsanje for over 5,000 people. Another friend has been frantically busy garnering resources and is hosting a delegation of donors next week. Malawi is on a “no aid” budget, but suddenly it’s pouring in. Malawi seems to be flooded every year, taken by surprise by the onset of such fast and heavy rains. Although there are always efforts to prepare, the environmental impact of poverty - deforestation, poor housing, land degradation are endemic. They don't lend themselves to being solved by one season of "no-aid" solutions.

Photo courtesy of Malawi Red Cross, near Nsanje Southern Malawi.
For us here in Lilongwe, the major impact has been electricity. It’s always been a bit variable in rainy season, but it’s much worse now. Reports are that a few of the hydroelectric power stations have had their water intakes damaged by trash, logs and detritus. To clean them out, the entire station has to be taken offline, leaving even more load-shedding than normal. 

For us now, it’s not a matter of if the electricity will go off, it’s when. When it does, we manage. The longest our power has been out is twelve hours. Not so bad really, but there’s not a lot of warning, so we try to keep our electronics charged and plugged in as much as possible. We have a lot of candles. It helps that the whole community is affected, because we rely on each other. I have only had to take one dish over a friend’s house (with generator) to finish a meal. As we go into week two, it’s getting a little less “adventurous” and more “annoying as hell” but all things considered - if it comes down to this or having my home washed away in a flood, you can bet which one I’d take. Having lived through the 1997 flood of the Red River Valley, I know it could be much, much worse.

**If you'd like to donate to victims of this flooding go to:**

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