Surging flood waters and stormy rains have claimed 48 lives and rendered about 70,000 people homeless with officials putting the cost of the disaster on the economy at over $517,241, . President Peter Mutharika has since declared a third of the country a disaster zone and appealed for assistance from the international community, writes Joseph Kayira from Blantyre .
Mutharika, who won the disputed May 20 general elections last year, is struggling to rebuild the economy after donors withheld aid following reports of theft and corruption in government. Donors account for 40 percent of the national budget. For an economy already battered after donors withheld budget support, the disaster – which Mutharika described as a national tragedy – has dealt his administration a heavy blow.
‘Since flooding started, 13,999 households have been affected with 69,995 rendered homeless. And 48 lives have so far been lost since the national disaster hit. Infrastructure like roads and bridges have been affected and crops washed away. I call for the assistance of the civil society, private sector as well as agencies and the United Nations arms to help in alleviating the suffering of Malawians. This is a national tragedy,’ Mutharika said.
One of the country’s leading civil society organisations, Malawi Watch, which promotes economic and human rights, urged donors to immediately re-think their stance on aid cuts to this impoverished country of 16 million people. Malawi Watch executive director Billy Banda told AfricaBriefing that Malawi cannot cope with the intensity of the disaster, which has affected 15 districts countrywide and calling on donors to rescind their earlier decision and resume aid to Malawi. ‘This is a national disaster. It is almost impossible for Malawi to handle this all alone. We need donors, civil society, NGOs and development partners to come in. We are asking donors to come in and rescue the situation,’ Banda said.
Donors say Malawi should first deal with a culture of impunity where resources end up in the pockets of politicians, businessmen and public servants. A classic example is theft of public funds known locally as Cashgate, which saw some Malawi public servants, in collusion with some businessmen and politicians, looted millions of dollars from government coffers for goods and services not rendered.
But Banda thinks donors should rethink their stance and wear a human face. He believes Mutharika is already doing a lot to rebuild the economy ‘but donors have not been forthcoming to support his efforts.’ He added: ‘[The president] has formulated a zero aid budget. He is fighting corruption but the way donors are treating him is as if he is doing nothing. Let them change their stand on Malawi and do something worthwhile for the country. If they really care for Malawi this is the time to release funds to assist the flood victims.’
Funding shortfalls, according to officials, have seriously hampered rescue efforts. Paul Chiunguzeni, commissioner for disaster management affairs, told online nyasatimes that government is expected to review budget for disaster response. ‘We had a budget of about $300,000 but it has been exhausted,’ he said. ‘The department will be asking government for an additional $200,000 to help us respond to the crisis.’
Meanwhile the department of climate change and metrological services has warned Malawians to brace for tougher times as more rains are expected across the country. A statement from the department indicates that the rains are due to a tropical depression (very deep low pressure area) located north of Mozambique in association with the rain bearing systems, the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone and the Congo Air Mass, are likely to remain