Every year the lower Shire district of Chikhwawa gets in the news and the reasons are always bad and lethal: flooding, drought or hailstorms, this has been happening since newspapers could print stories but the communities there are saying enough is enough, they want Chikhwawa to be disaster proof, can they? Bright Mhango toured the district last weekend to hear their interventions.
The villagers under GVH Billy in Traditional Authority Ngabu are not new to disaster, it they each know a family that has lost a house, field of crops or child to harsh winds, locusts, floods or drought, the villages are situated in the vicinity of Nzengo and Nyamapovu Rivers which swell to serious and perilous levels when the it rains.
“This year for example, it rained for almost 10 days without letting up much and with the narrow culverts that Mota Engil has put where the river crosses the road, the river swelled up too much with water creeping back to the villages,
“The banks of the river which harbor most of the villagers crops were swept away, we live with danger here,” said Group Village Headman Billy.
The village has so far formally complained to Mota Engil over the narrow curvets but the culverts are just one part of the problem.
Sopholiano Chiputu chairs the Village Civil Protection Committee (VCPC), a committee which came to being on the intervention of an NGO Eagles Relief Development Programme which was in turn funded by Christian Aid to implement disaster reduction programmes.
“We were taken to Blantyre and trained in basic aspects, when we returned, we sat down we listed our threats which we found as being drought, hailstorms, floods and pest and disease outbreak, we then strategized on how to deal with each
“To counter droughts, we started stocking livestock which we can sell when the crop fails, we also have village saving loans which give income in times of hunger. To counter floods, we embarked on a reforestation programme where we plant trees along the river banks and discourage farming too close to the river.
“Against disease outbreaks, we saw mosquito nets being distributed by government, we demand that every household have a toilet and we are pushing for an under-five clinic to be established right here in the village,” said Chiputu.
He said the villagers are encouraged to avoid wastage and to use pesticides to protect their harvest. The NGO Eagles also provided plastic tubings in the villagers planted seedlings of trees which are being planted around houses to shield them from wind, when Nation on Sunday visited Billy Village some of the planted trees that dot the horizon are as high as 5 metres.
“The idea is to make people resilient in the face of climate change and our interventions here include Village Savings and Loans, Conservation Agriculture, Afforestation and Livestock rearing,” said Lovemore Makaloka, project facilitator for Eagles Relief and Development Programme.
The interventions by Eagles are also happening in about 24 other villages, according to Makaloka.
Fast forward about 50 kilometers to Traditional Authority Ngowe's domain and in Khungubwe village, the villagers there are also actively participating in uplifting themselves.
The interventions in Khungubwe are being spearheaded by the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), which also gets its funding from Christian Aid.
|This Picture was taken in Karonga|
Apart from the conservation agriculture, village saving loans, the VCPC has developed a network of early warning system which has seen no flood related deaths happening since 2011.
Chakhumata Yokoniya is the chairperson of the VCPC in the area and he told Nation on Sunday that after the training that EAM provided them, they acquired contacts with the metrological department personnel and those that live in the areas upstream such that they get texts via phones of weather forecasts of up to five days and of probable floods.
“We also have mega phones, if we get the warning we go around the villages to warn people so that those who live in potentially dangerous areas should evacuate,” said Yokoniya.
And conveniently, EAM constructed an evacuation center on the upper part of the village for people to take refuge when waters are high; the center also serves as a school when waters are not running the show.
Perthius Kayira is the project officer for EAM in the area.
“EAM provided the VCPC for the villages along the Lalanje River with Disaster Risk Reduction training, the VCPC is an umbrella of many interventions. We also trained 2450 farmers in T/A Ngowe area in afforestation, Village savings and loans, conservation agriculture and low carbon technology, that is stoves that use less wood,” said Kayira.
So far, all is well for these villages, the real VCPCs will however be seen when the donors wrap up their trainings and presence. If the villages can hold on to the village banks and general organizations, news from Chikhwawa will stop being of floods and suffering but success of the communities.
Only time will tell.