Malawi: Thousands stranded with little to no food

Interview with deputy field coordinator Julien Lefèvre

Julien Lefèvre is deputy field coordinator in Nsanje, Malawi. He has returned from a reconnaissance mission in helicopter in the South of Malawi most affected by floods, and assessed the dozen of evacuation centers set up in the district.

You’ve surveyed the area by air. What does it look like?

The large plains have been transformed into a lake, and now that the waters have started to recede a few islands are appearing here and there. But the most shocking is to see people stranded in the middle of nowhere, some wading in water, some on canoes, struggling to reach even slightly higher, drier ground.

You’ve just returned from Makhanga, a village that is still cut off from the rest of the country. What is the situation there?

Makhanga is now an island where about 5,000 people are completely stranded. Most of them left nearby villages or hamlets after the flooding, and Makhanga is the only place where they could find refuge. About a thousand people are gathered in the village’s primary school, which has been transformed into a de facto camp for displaced persons. People there say that two out of the five wells in the area still have clear water. But food is running scarce and, as the clinic has been inundated, there are no health services at all.

What is most needed at the moment?

Food. So many people have little or no way to get food. I saw an old man walking on the side of the road, with the most haggard look on his face. He had been walking with 15 others and was pleading for something to eat. People lost absolutely everything, and are just looking for a place to sleep, for something to eat.

Another concern is the high risk of malaria. We’ve already detected cases among young children and, with water everywhere, the breeding ground for mosquitoes has expanded.  We can foresee a spike in the number of cases in the coming week. Because people have lost everything, one of our major priorities is the distribution of mosquito nets.