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Sunday, 25 February, 2001, 10:19 GMT
Eyewitness: Malawi flood misery
Refugee centre
Flood survivors are weak with hunger
Raphael Tenthani witnesses the floods that have devastated a large area of Malawi, as well as parts of neighbouring Mozambique.

In the wake of the continuing floods in most parts of the country, President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi has declared 13 of the country's 27 districts as disaster areas, and called on the donor community for help.

Flying in an army helicopter over the southern districts of Zomba and Phalombe, we saw whole houses and maize, rice and banana fields submerged in water.

Flooded land
Large areas have been inundated
Whole villages were flooded - it is a miracle only three deaths were reported here.

But there was worse to come in the southernmost Lower Shire district of Nsanje. For two hours we could not find ground strong enough to land until we reached the district headquarters.

Nsanje District Commissioner Charles Makanga told us 217 villages have been affected by the floods, leaving 22,454 people homeless and destitute. He said some of them ran to villages in the high ground but most ran to the district headquarters.

At least seven whole villages fled to the Mozambican town of Magaza.

Swept away

At least five people have been confirmed dead, three of them after being washed away by swelling rivers, while two of them died after their houses fell on them.

Girls in refugee centre
There are not enough emergency supplies to go around
At least 259 villages, said District Commissioner Makanga, lost all their crop fields, raising the threat of famine.

A number of relief agencies, like Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, Concern Universal and Christian Aid for Relief and Development, have responded with relief items but this is not enough for people camped at a temporary refugee camp.

The government has also managed to bring five 30-tonne tractors through the broken roads.

Destitute

When we drove to the camp, destitute people swarmed around Presidential Affairs Minister Dumbo Lemani who could only promise them the government has not abandoned them.

Government officials and helicopter
Soaked land makes even helicopter access difficult
Dorish Sandalamu, chairman of the ad hoc refugee committee, told Mr Lemani some people had not eaten anything for three weeks.

Although there were no signs yet of an outbreak of disease, most of the refugees looked weak and wasted.

Disease feared

Mr Makanga said Nsanje is also hosting people from nine flooded villages in the Mutarara region of Mozambique.

He said there is an outbreak of cholera and dysentery in Mutarara and Migaza towns in Mozambique which might spread across the border.

Commissioner for disaster preparedness, relief and rehabilitation Lucius Chikuni said his department has set aside 41 million Malawi Kwacha (about $500,000) for relief items for the estimated 200,000 people that have been displaced by the floods in the 13 districts.

He said the government may need at least $1m to satisfy all needs of the displaced people.

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See also:

25 Feb 01 | Africa
Mozambique dam near overflowing
15 Feb 01 | Africa
Malawi floods displace thousands
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