The normally gently flowing Mulunguzi River, close to Zomba Theological University
My usual early morning road run turned out to be more like a river run today. Here in Zomba the rivers are overflowing, the ground is saturated and there is water everywhere. Running often brings a chance to process things but I found myself struggling to process what has happened in the past week as we have been hit by Cyclone Freddy.
In personal life, when we are hit by some sudden and unexpected misfortune, there is an initial stage of disbelief – can this really be happening to me? Our collective experience in the aftermath of the storm is similar. We can hardly take it in. Could so much devastation happen in such a short time? Can this really be happening to us?
The situation is changing by the minute but the last official Government figures that I saw indicate that 326 people have been killed, 796 injured and 201 are reported missing. 183,100 houses have been damaged or destroyed, leaving approximately 500,000 people homeless. These are big numbers, but the loss comes home to me when I hear from my friends who are pastors in the villages and taking the funerals of those who lost their lives. Then I remember that each one is a precious child of God.
There are many unsung heroes at a time like this. Some dug with their bare hands to try to free those who were swept away by ferocious landslides. Others are now trying to provide for their families when they have been left without shelter and have lost all their possessions. Others again, at a time when few have cash to spare, are digging deep in their pockets to contribute to relief efforts.
This is the time to do what we can to meet the immediate crisis. From a longer perspective there can be more analysis of what has happened. Malawi by itself has little influence on weather patterns in the Indian Ocean. But international action on climate change might make a difference. More locally, environmentalists have long warned of the dangers of deforestation. If the hillsides were still thick with trees, especially if they still had the rich indigenous woodland that was there before colonial times, it is unlikely that flash floods and landslides would have occurred on the scale that they did. Conservation now becomes a matter of life and death.
These and other long thoughts will be needed. First and foremost, though, people must be sheltered, given medical treatment, fed, re-housed and re-equipped. Information and updates are available at https://www.scotland-malawipartnership.org/news/tropical-cyclone-freddy