- Price of staples goes up 300 percent compared to the same time last year.
- UNICEF estimates more than 4.8 million children are in dire humanitarian need.
- Over 500 000 people displaced
The social and economic impact of tropical cyclone Freddy on Malawi continues to worsen as inflation kicks in on all staple foods.
While recovery efforts are ongoing, Malawi is now under high pressure to stabilize food prices. It is now over ten days since the South-Eastern African country was hit by what is considered the worst-known tropical cycle to ever occur anywhere in the world.
“Very intense Tropical Cyclone Freddy was an exceptionally long-lived, powerful, and deadly storm that traversed the southern Indian Ocean for more than five weeks in February and March 2023. Freddy is both the longest-lasting and highest-ACE-producing tropical cyclone ever recorded worldwide,” reports the World Food Programme (WFP).
The report cites 1,078mm of rain fell falling for four consecutive days between 10 and 13 March in various areas of the country, the highest that has ever been recorded to date.
When the cyclone hit land in Malawi, it wreaked untold havoc causing the destruction of properties and loss of lives. Now, food prices are soaring, and the already troubling food insecurity in the country has now worsened.
For example, the price of the otherwise most affordable staple has gone up over 300 percent compared to the same time last year.
Also Read: Cyclone Kenneth: Mozambique evacuates, Malawi cautions citizens
International organisations like the World Food Programme (WFP) are on the ground assisting recovery efforts for the flood-hit communities in the country, the efforts are an uphill climb.
The WFP reports that over 3.8 million people are facing acute food insecurity and this comes at a period that is usually short of food.
“Tropical Cyclone Freddy has worsened the situation and more people will now need assistance in 2023,” reports WFP.
The government in Malawi says over 500 people have lost their lives due to the cyclone and the resulting floods and another 350 are reported missing. Worse still, more than 500,000 other people have been displaced.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), prior to the floods, malnutrition was already a major problem, a situation that has only been made worse by Cyclone Freddy. UNICEF projects that this year, more than 213,200 children under age 5 are expected to be acutely malnourished in Malawi.
The WFP’s Advanced Disaster Analysis & Mapping Flood Impact Analysis also reports that well over 320,000 hectares of land have been destroyed by the cyclone and the floods and this includes more than 117,000 hectares of viable farmland.
To meet the food needs of Malawi following the cyclone, WFP says it requires at least US$ 27 million over the course of the coming three months that will go towards supporting the 500,000 plus people who are in dire need of food and other basic supplies.
Also Read: The Cyclone economic heist in Southern Africa
Malawi: Cyclone Freddy aftermath
According to Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA), the hardest hit region is Chikwawa District, where nearly 101,800 people have been affected.
Thousands of people are taking shelter in schools that have been turned into refuge sites.
Things are no better in the neighbouring Mangochi District where another 65,700 people have been affected. Inter-Agency Rapid Assessments (IARA) are underway but the figures remain vague as the death toll continues to raise and more and more people are reported missing.
The worst is not over, weather reports warn that Malawi will continue to experience thunderstorms and rains in the course of the remaining week of March.
As a result of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) influence, flash floods can be expected in almost all low-lying areas.
With the displacement and lack of food, health safety is also high on the list. Malawi authorities say ‘protection issues remain a major concern, including due to overcrowding in sites for displaced people.’
UNICEF estimates that millions of children are at risk as the floods bring about cholera outbreaks in Malawi and even in neighbouring Mozambique which was also badly affected.
“Both countries face flooding and damage caused by the cyclone, leading to death, displacement, and the devastation of infrastructure and social services. The after-effects have crippled access to health and other basic services,” UNICEF authorities warn.
“We are now facing a very real risk of a rapidly accelerating cholera outbreak in Mozambique, a disease which is particularly dangerous for young children, especially those who are malnourished,” says, UNICEF Representative Maria Luisa Fornara.
“UNICEF is working closely with the government to urgently restore access to health, water, hygiene, and sanitation interventions to areas hit by the cyclone, and to prevent and treat cholera, but additional support is needed to meet the rapidly growing needs of children and families,” reports the UNICEF rep who also called for the international community to step up aid efforts to the country.
UNICEF says in a span of ten days post the cyclone, cholera cases have almost quadrupled to reach almost 10,700 since early February. In Mozambique, more than 2,300 cholera cases have been reported.
“Even prior to the cyclone, Malawi and Mozambique were among the countries most seriously affected by the cholera outbreak that has, in 2023 alone, resulted in more than 68,000 cases across 11 countries in the eastern and southern Africa region,” the agency has reported.
The UNICEF figures are daunting, estimating more than 4.8 million children to be in dire humanitarian need.
“The destruction and suffering that I witnessed in southern Malawi is the human face of the global climate crisis,” said UN Resident Coordinator for Malawi, Rebecca Adda-Dontoh who went on to pledge UN support.
“The people I met with—many of whom have lost their homes and loved ones—have done nothing to cause this crisis. We, as the United Nations, stand in full solidarity with the people of Malawi at this tragic time and we call on the international community to do the same.”
Much remains to be seen in the wake of Cyclone Freddy and as weather conditions contuse to worsen as the region enters the heavy rains season in April, international aid will be a decisive factor for millions in the region.