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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 10:04 GMT
Flood damage in Malawi
Malawian villagers in canoe in Nsanje district
Some areas are accessible only by canoe
By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

At least seven people have died in Malawi when their mostly mud and thatch houses crumbled over them as a result of heavy rain.

There are still more areas where we haven't been able to go because they were cut off from the rest of the country when roads leading to them were washed away

Relief official Lucius Chikuni
The deaths, in the southern district of Mangochi next to Lake Malawi, brings to 15 the number of people who have so far been confirmed dead as a result of the recent floods.

But Lucius Chikuni, Commissioner of the Department of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation, told BBC News Online the figure could be much more.

"There are still more areas where we haven't been able to go because they were cut off from the rest of the country when roads leading to them were washed away," he said.

I used a dug-out canoe to reach those isolated areas.

River backs up

At Marka, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the district headquarters in the worst hit southernmost Nsanje district near the Mozambican border, whole areas have been flooded with the rise in the waters of the Shire River.

Flooded house
Mud houses collapsed on top of their occupants
The Shire, Malawi's largest river and the only outlet from Lake Malawi, crosses into Mozambique where it pours into the Zambezi.

But because the Zambezi has been inundated by other waters from Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Shire has started backing up, flooding higher ground in Nsanje.

Where there were once roads and foot-paths, people are now paddling in dug-out canoes.

Entire fields of crops have been flooded. Mr Chikuni said agriculturalists were still assessing how much has been lost in terms of lost crop fields.

We don't know where our next meals will be coming from after the floods have receded

Dorish Sandalamu, refugee committee
But for Dorish Sandalamu, chairman of the ad hoc refugee committee in Nsanje, nobody will be able to harvest anything in Nsanje.

"We don't know where our next meals will be coming from after the floods have receded," he said.

Chikuni said more areas continue to be flooded following heavy rains that have been falling in most parts of the country for the past week.

Thousands homeless

He said, for instance, in the southern Phalombe plains one more river has burst its banks causing extensive flooding in more areas and displacing a further 3,000 people.

Woman and children walk through the water
Roads have turned to rivers
A similar situation has been reported in the nearby Mulanje plain where two rivers have overflooded.

All these spell further disaster for the people in the worst hit southern border district of Nsanje, since all the waters from up-country end up there.

The figure of those displaced because of the flooding countrywide continues to shoot up. On Monday Mr Chikuni said at least 346,000 people have been displaced and are in dire need of food, clean water, shelter and medication.

Emergency help

He said so far a number of NGOs and local companies have been providing food, plastic sheetings for shelter and chlorine to ride water of bacteria that could cause an outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases like cholera and dysentery.

"But this is not enough to cater for all areas," he said.

Refugees in Nsanje district
Homeless people seek shelter at a government office
Vice-president Justin Malewezi is expected to hold a crisis meeting on Tuesday with donor countries and agencies to brief them about the flooding situation.

The donors are expected to pledge money towards the relief efforts.

According to the Department of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation, government has set aside 41 million Malawi kwacha (about $513,000) for the relief efforts but require at least 100 million Malawi kwacha (about $1.3m) to address the immediate needs of the displaced people.

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See also:

16 Nov 00 | World
Human cost of dams 'too high'
25 Feb 01 | Africa
Eyewitness: Malawi flood misery
23 Feb 01 | Africa
Mozambique fears more rain
22 Feb 01 | Africa
Mozambique in $30m flood appeal
04 Mar 01 | Africa
Race to help flood victims
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