Officials in Malawi say at least seven people have been killed and hundreds displaced by Tropical Cyclone Gombe, which also left 11 people dead in Mozambique. Authorities have deployed search and rescue teams to flood-hit areas.
Chipiliro Khamula is a disaster for Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs.
He says reports show the cyclone caused heavy damage in about 10 districts, mostly in the south of the country.
“For instance, the Machinga district council reports that a 78-year-old man has died after being hit by a collapsing wall…The very same council also reports that a 49-year-old woman, her 32-year-old daughter and her two-year-old grandson have been washed away when they were trying to cross the flooded Namandanje River, in Ta Liwonde.”
Khamula notes that reports from Mulanje district indicate a police station, the local Revenue Authority offices and an immigration office at the border with Mozambique have been submerged and temporary closed.
The report further indicates that the Chikwawa-Nsanje Road has been cut off in the Chikwawa District, making the Nsanje District inaccessible by road.
In the Phalombe district, an evacuation camp hosting people affected by Tropical Storm Ana in January was also submerged, leaving the occupants homeless.
“District councils are still conducting assessments to establish the extent of damage. Meanwhile, the department has deployed a search and rescue team comprising the Malawi Defense Force and the Malawi Police Service to Mulanje and Phalombe districts,” he expressed.
The flooding comes as Malawi starts to recover from the effects of tropical Storm Ana which hit Malawi. The storm affected more than 900,000 people in 17 of the country’s 28 districts.
Ana killed about 80 people in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi. Another 18 people in Malawi are still missing following that storm.
Lucy Mtilatila is acting director at Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services in Malawi.
She says that between global warming and land degradation, Malawi should prepare for more cyclones and more flooding.
“Because most of the land is bare, no trees, no vegetation, so, when these waters come, the impact of these floods is very, very high. And the temperatures are increasing over the oceans. With these global warming, climate change, we expect that these cyclones will be developing more and more.”
She also says the impact can be mitigated by rethinking Malawi’s building codes.
“For example, if our houses are not withstanding torrential rains of 48 hours, that means we have to go back to the drawing board and see how we can design structures like buildings, roads, bridges that can withstand these kinds of hazards in the future. That’s the only way we can adapt to these cyclones when they come.”
Currently, Malawi’s government is emphasizing the need for people living in flood-prone areas to voluntarily relocate.
Many people are resisting the move largely for fear of losing their ancestral land.