The sound of a bell rings out to announce that the school day has just finished at Kathebwe Primary School. It’s a hot, sunny day. Children run outside and start to disperse. Some go home to nearby villages, while others start kicking a ball around on the school field. A third group joins their mothers and younger siblings, who are sitting with a hundred or more flood victims in the shade of a large tree. Since the heavy rains and floods of early March, this school has doubled as an evacuation centre.
Beatrice Harold and her newborn daughter have been living in a classroom at their local primary school ever since flood waters swept through southern Malawi three weeks ago
One of the first things I learnt about Malawi right after arriving in this beautiful country was that it prone to floods and drought. In the first week of March, heavy rains fell across much of the country. It was bad enough where I live in Lilongwe, in the central region, but then reports started coming in from the south, saying that vast areas along the Shire river had been flooded, leaving thousands of people without a home.
Malawi’s border with neighbouring Mozambique has always been fluid. People move freely across the vast land border for trade and marriage. The language spoken in the southern border villages is often a fusion of Sena (spoken by the Sena tribe of southern Malawi) and Portuguese from Mozambique. It is not uncommon to find Malawians in these areas speaking fluent Portuguese and using a Mozambique network on their mobile phones.
It was the middle of the night on 7 March when Annie decided to flee her home with her children, including baby Ndaziona, who had been born just two days before. It had been raining for four days, the nearby Shire river was rising and the family’s mud brick and straw house was becoming precarious.
The timing could hardly have been worse. Just a few weeks before Malawi’s staple maize crop was due to be harvested, heavy rains swept through the southern part of the country, taking with them the yet-to-be-collected grain, thousands of houses and cutting off access to some areas; dozens were killed.
The day began as usual. I woke up at 6:30 am to get ready for work. An hour or so later, I arrived in Area 24 to join my colleagues, and try to stop the spread of cholera in the area.
Area 24 is a crowded township located on the boundary between Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, and the surrounding rural district.
Our task for the day was simple: to locate, photograph and mark on a Google map all the nearby sanitation and hygiene facilities including toilets, water points and dumpsites.
On 20 May 2018, Lilongwe became cholera free, following an outbreak that lasted four months, affected 388 people, and claimed 18 lives. Nationally, over 900 people were affected with 30 deaths. The outbreak was caused by unsafe water consumption and poor hygiene and sanitation practices. Unless these underlying issues are addressed, cholera is likely to return.
Malawi is currently facing a cholera outbreak in Lilongwe. This is the latest in series of cholera outbreaks across the country, caused by unsafe water sources and poor hygiene practices. In September 2017, UNICEF’s Rebecca Phwitiko travelled to Chikwawa and Nsanje to report on cholera outbreaks in the south of Malawi.
It’s only September, but the heat is already becoming unbearable. At the peak of summer, temperatures rise to a scorching 42°C in Nsanje, southern Malawi. The main road which traverses Malawi from Karonga in the north, becomes an earth road in the southern district. About 56km of bumpy earth road leads to Ndamera. There is not much to see on the way, just a few cows and some kiosks. The heat and the dust make the journey seem even longer.