Supporting households affected by floods with cash transfers

UK Aid is supporting households affected by floods in Chikwawa and Zomba Districts with cash transfers

Steria receiving her multipurpose cash in an envelope
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Robert Saka

By Tendai Munemo, UNICEF Malawi

One, two, three, four. She counts the MK2,000 notes from her envelope. She pauses, shakes her head and lifts her chin slightly. She puts the money back in her envelope, grabs her walking stick and starts to leave as her face breaks into a huge smile, relief drawn all over it. This is Steria Tomas, from T/A Mwambo in Zomba district. She is aged 70 and is one of the victims of the March 2019 floods which displaced 86,976 households and killed at least 56 people across 15 affected districts.

Steria was counting money she received as part of the support provided to flood-affected households under the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP), part of early recovery efforts. This money is provided to SCTP beneficiary households through the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare (MoGCDSW), with financial support from Department For International Development (DFID), and technical support from UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

Ruins of Steria’s old house and behind it is her temporary house
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Robert Saka

Escaping from the Floods

“It had been raining incessantly for 2 days. On the third day, my house collapsed, beginning with the outer walls. I held onto my 4 grandchildren and dived outside onto the water which was now waist high,” Steria outlines. Her grandchildren are ages 5 to 14 and they are all in primary school. The grand children live with her from time to time when their parents travel outside the district for piece work. None of the children could swim, so she struggled to keep afloat. They had lost all their belongings, escaping with only  the clothes on their backs.

Fortunately, a boat appeared. The boat was owned by the village headman who lives just a few houses away from Steria. Upon seeing the devastation, the headman mobilized his household and his fishing boat and started local rescue efforts. A boat that normally fits eight people carried twenty or more that day, many of them children and women. They were taken to Chinkhwanga school, about 200 meters away from Steria’s house. Classes were disrupted as the school became a camp for those escaping the floods.

Thankfully, after a few days, the water receded and Steria was able to start moving about looking for piece work to support her grandchildren, as her crops were lost to the floods, in addition to her belongings. She was able to find work harvesting rice a few kilometers from her village but her daily earnings were not enough to feed her family.

Steria in her maize field showing a UNICEF Social Protection Officer the devastation that the floods had caused
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Robert Saka

This made Steria very happy to receive cash assistance. “This money will support me and my grandchildren to have enough food. It will also support me prepare for the upcoming growing season. I plan to buy three chickens and a goat to replace the eight chickens I lost in the floods. I am very grateful to have received this financial support at such a time like this,”she added as she broke into a small dance, throwing her walking stick up in the air.

The Floods Early Recovery Multipurpose Cash Transfer

The early recovery multipurpose cash transfer is provided to SCTP beneficiary households who are labour constrained and ultra-poor (e.g. elderly headed household, chronically ill-headed household etc.), reaching approximately 10% of the population in each district affected by the floods. With DFID funds, UNICEF and WFP supported a rapid assessment which confirmed the eligibility of SCTP households for emergency assistance. Given the underlying vulnerable status of these households, it was expected that affected SCTP households will take longest to recover from the effects of the flooding.

Steria’s grandchildren, playing outside her temporary grass thatched house
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Robert Saka

In addition, past experience has indicated that households on an existing social assistance programme (e.g. SCTP) tend to be excluded during community-based targeting for emergency assistance, under the premise that they are already in receipt of routine support. Therefore, DFID provided further financial assistance to provide multipurpose cash support to SCTP households as part of the early recovery interventions in Chikwawa and Zomba districts.

The Future

Steria is now very hopeful that with the support she has received, she will make a better life for herself and her grandchildren. She plans for them to complete primary school and move on to secondary school in the next coming years. She will use part of the money to start rebuilding her house.

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