Our blog posts over the past weeks have been heavy and maybe depressing, so I felt it was time for a more optimistic post. It’s not all bad. For one, the rains that were foretasted last weekend didn’t amount to much rain in Malawi (although Mozambique and Zimbabwe have suffered badly). In Malawi, we have had many warm, sunny days in the past week. A bad situation could have become even worse but it didn’t.
In the bigger picture there are some positives. I asked Churches Action Relief and Development (CARD) Executive Director, Melton Luhanga, whether the 2015 flooding was worse than 2019 or whether the country is better prepared for flooding of this magnitude. It is clear that Malawi has learned many lessons from previous floods, particularly the 2015 floods. Luhanga believes that there were fewer deaths and persons affected this time partly because of the emergency preparedness planning and climate change adaptation that has taken place since 2015.
For example, CARD has been instrumental in the Malawi Weather Chasers Whats App group. Formed in 2016 by the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services to communicate weather forecasts and early warning information to people at risk, this group uses cell phones to communicate weather forecasts and severe weather warnings.
Also, many of CARD’s projects over the past four years have been solar irrigation schemes. By implementing solar irrigation, CARD encourages farmers to move out of flood plains and into areas where they can rely on irrigation. This way farmers avoid farming on a flood plain, a practice that is ideal during dry weather but potentially catastrophic during a very wet rainy season such as what we have had this year. CARD has also included disaster management planning and re-forestation in many of its projects, and these both reduce the impacts of flooding.
|Amount of Rainfall (mm) during flood event||Amount of Rainfall in 5 months prior to flooding||Number of deaths||Number of households displaced||Number of people affected|
|Jan. 2015||Approx. 250-400 mm over 3 days
|< 300 mm||106||230,000||1,101,364|
|Mar. 2019||Approx. 250-350 mm over 4-5 days||> 1000 mm
I have tried to create a table to compare the 2015 flooding to the 2019 flooding; however, this is more difficult than I expected for several reasons. The amount of rainfall across Malawi varies widely, and even within the affected districts there are significant differences in the amount of rainfall in different areas. So, this is a rough estimate, and I would be more than happy to revise my numbers if someone has something more accurate. As you can see, the weather leading up to the March 2019 flooding had already impacted many rivers and waterways because of the unusual amounts of rain received even before March 2019. What I find encouraging is the following: The amount of rainfall during the acute event in January 2015 was similar or slightly more than the amount in March 2019; however, the amount of rain leading up to the 2019 flooding was much higher than that in 2015. Flooding had already occurred in some districts in January and February of 2019. Despite an increase in Malawi’s population by almost a million since 2015 (which means there are more people living in the affected districts), and despite the amount of rain leading up to the 2019 flooding being significantly higher than 2015, fewer people were impacted and fewer lives were lost. This gives me hope.
Malawi has a long way to go in term of climate change adaptation. It is considered one of the most climate change vulnerable countries in the world. But, we are making progress. We still need more climate change action here and around the world, but it is encouraging that the importance of climate change adaptation is well recognized in Malawi and many international development organizations realize that funding for climate change adaptation means lives saved in countries like Malawi.