Support for Cyclone Freddy Affected Households in Malawi
From Friday, March 10, 2022 Malawi was hit by Cyclone Freddy, which has resulted to over 500 confirmed deaths in the country, loss of livestock and property. Cyclone Freddy was characterized by heavy rains, which led to flooding and mudslides, and storms, which destroyed homes and critical infrastructure.
The impact of this cyclone has been highly pronounced in Southern Malawi, especially in Blantyre City and the surrounding districts of Phalombe, Chikhwawa, Mulanje Thyolo, Chikwawa and Chiradzulu. Due to the flooding and mudslides, thousands of people have been rendered homeless and have sought shelter in camps. The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) has reported that over 19,000 people are living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) in camps that have been erected in the country. The country’s President has described the cyclone’s impact as a national tragedy and has declared a State of Disaster in the Southern Region of Malawi, effectively appealing for local and international support for the affected families. Until Friday, March 17, 2023, the number of households directly affected was more than 50,000
Meanwhile, site visits and media reports indicate that the IDPS are living in dire conditions characterised by poor sanitation and limited access to basic amenities including food and clothes in the camps. This situation is worrisome, especially considering Malawi is still facing a cholera outbreak that has so far claimed hundreds of lives. Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine by the Vibrio cholerae bacteria. There are fears that the poor sanitation and hygienic conditions in the camps can lead to an escalation in the number of Cholera cases, which could potentially put thousands of lives in danger.
Appeal for Support
Currently, IDPs are in need of relief items that would make their lives bearable in these hard times including food, clothes and potable water as well as hygiene products and sanitation. While there are a number of organisations that have moved in to assist with food supplies in camps, there has not been much support around improving access to better sanitation, water, hygiene, food and warmth. Further, due to limitations in resources, many of the IDPs may have to live in the camps for a long time as they have no means to move back to their former settlements that are now in ruins or have been completely razed down by the floods and mudslides. As such, some of them are in dire need of materials to repair their homes so that they are in a habitable state.
Relief project to secure lives and support households to recover from disasters
The Centre for Community Organisation and Development and its alliance partner the Federation of the Rural and Urban Poor (the Federation) – the Malawi alliance, intend to roll out a relief programme targeting IDPS who are currently living in camps across the region. In the short term, the alliance will support these camps with sanitation and hygiene solutions in an attempt to curtail any possibility of water-borne diseases and ensure that the IDPs have better access to health services.
The alliance intends to do this through the provision of water and sanitation solutions, including the construction of temporary sanitation facilities, and the provision of water treatment solutions and utensils. In addition, the alliance will also provide food rations. Currently, the supply of food rations is intermittent and some IDPs are reportedly sleeping on empty stomachs or scampering for whatever food is available.
Providing a platform for communities to tell their stories and set the rebuilding agenda
Community-led data collection after disasters is crucial for assessing the impact and identifying the needs of the affected population. In many cases, affected communities may not have the capacity to undertake such assignments due to a number of underlining factors. In this case, we want to use previous knowledge to provide training in data collection and analysis to the affected communities. The alliance will provide tools and equipment to aid data collection and analysis processes. These tools are in the form of cameras and GPS devices etc. The data collection process will employ participatory approaches by ensuring that the process has been consulted widely so that the voices of the voiceless are heard and their needs are included in the rebuilding process. This in turn will help in building trust and ensure that the data collected accurately reflects the experiences and perspectives of the entire community.
Support the rebuilding process
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, there has been extensive damage to community infrastructure, houses and WASH facilities. Other infrastructures such as power and communications are still down in many areas leaving communities in darkness. Rebuilding infrastructure such as homes, WASH facilities and roads is important for restoring normalcy to the lives of those affected by the disaster. The alliance’s plan is to recapitalise the Mchenga Urban Poor Fund to provide financial support for the rebuilding exercise; targeting the provision of houses, potable water and decent sanitation through ecological sanitation toilets.
Additionally, Cyclone Freddy will have a significant impact on the local economy. Therefore, the alliance intends to support economic recovery by helping individual households and the community to rebuild their economic lives. This will involve providing start-ups for small businesses and entrepreneurs, as well as creating jobs – through reconstruction jobs, and providing training and education opportunities.
Provide mental health support
This disaster has had a significant impact on mental health and well-being of the affected population – including children that have seen the government extending the suspension of schools until March 31, when the second term was scheduled to end. Schools have been suspended as about 230 schools have been turned into holding camps for IDPs. Thus, providing access to mental health support services, in this case, will help individuals and communities cope with the trauma of the event.
As an exit strategy, the alliance would also want to champion dialogue with authorities and other stakeholders on effective ways of managing these disasters as well as recommending measures that would reduce the vulnerability of the households when such disasters have stricken. Further, we will deploy our KYC.TV Malawi Team to document the situation in the City to champion solutions that address the vulnerabilities of the households in the medium and long terms.
Namibian Federation & Namibian Housing Action Group: Responses to COVID-19
On behalf of the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) and Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG) – SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 across Namibia.
In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic the Namibian Alliance (Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia and Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG)) alongside the National Alliance for Informal Settlement Upgrading, have been able to pivot the partnership through facilitating open communication through various channels for communities to receive pertinent updates from local & central government. The Namibian Alliance is positioned as critical to the response plan from the Ministry of Health for community mobilisation and peer to peer learning enabling improved directed health messaging.
Edith Mbanga, Federation leader in Namibia speaks about the community-led responses taken. “As SDFN when COVID-19 came to our ears we look at it as a serious issue that needs to be addressed to make sure our communities understand. With support from NHAG we requested a training from the Ministry of Health & Social Services. Twenty members were trained to educate communities about COVID-19 symptoms and how they can protect themselves from the virus. We are working together with MoH & SS as Federation teams, with homeless people that were living near the river and under the bridges.”
Active cities include the Khomas region, Erongo region, and the Oshana region, with the following priority areas and needs identified: PPE, soaps, hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, buckets and the installation of tippy taps. Food parcels for the households where their source of income has been heavily affected are crucial during lockdown, and for the foreseeable future. Federation have also participated in training in proper hygiene protocols under COVID-19, developing pamphlets and fact sheets being distributed in various languages. The Federation also joined the Psycho-Social Support group led by Ministry of Health & SS to train and deploy volunteers to assist in relocation of street dwellers in Windhoek.
Edith Mbanga reflects on the economic threat to livelihoods of those in the informal economy as Namibia remains in lockdown until the 4th May 2020. “Because of lockdown, communities who are selling at the markets lost their income – that launched in Namibia this year by Namibian Alliance. We fought for the market to be open with locations for cleaning and sanitizing with authorities at the markets. A team of more than 20 members will educate the informal workers to make the markets clean every morning. They will work at the market 3 days per week. We can use this as an opportunity for us to talk to the people, and hear from them what their plans after lockdown because this is a temporary thing, there is a lot that we are doing.”
The Standard Bank of Namibia through the Buy-a-Brick initiative with the Namibian Alliance has donated water tanks and hand sanitizers to NHAG for distribution to communities living in informal settlements. The general public is encouraged to make donations into the Standard Buy-a-Brick account for further support in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the informal settlements.
Namibia Housing Action Group is a Namibian Service Organisation that aims to support and add value to the activities and processes of the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia in achieving their mission. It strives to facilitate change in the livelihoods of urban and rural poor through pioneering pro-poor development approaches. Community mobilisation, project management & delivery, lobbying & advocacy, financial resilience & asset building, and data & mapping are the core competencies of the Namibian Alliance that they have been developing for over twenty years.
Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.
Zambian Federation & PPHPZ: Responses to COVID-19
On behalf of the Zambian Federation and People’s Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia (PPHPZ) – SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 across Zambia.The following is an account directly from the SDI affiliate in Zambia, alongside updates on the current work of the Zambian Federation & PPHPZ.
Approximately 40% (6 million) Zambians live in urban areas and 70% (4.2 million) of those living in urban areas live in the slums known as “compounds.” The spread of COVID-19 across the globe has been through human to human transmission of individuals traveling from country to country, thus, the misconception is that it is a disease that affects the ‘rich and privileged’. On the contrary, comparatively informal settlement dwellers face a much greater risk to Covid-19. Life in the slums (compounds) is characterized by poor quality housing and inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. If water is available, its either intermittent or of compromised quality. Streets are characterized by overcrowding, and poor planning, with electricity intermittently provided. Another obstacle is limited access to household and public sanitation – this service is crucial in combating the spread of disease such as COVID-19 pandemic. The absence of public toilets curtails and hinders efforts of fighting pandemics as fecal matter can spread diseases in the community.
In Zambia, cases of cholera outbreaks in informal settlements have ceased in the headlines with seasonal outbreaks on yearly basis becoming the norm. During epidemics, slum residents are more vulnerable to respiratory infections owing to the fact that people are overcrowded and congested in their communities & houses without proper ventilation fueling mass spreading of COVID-19. Poverty levels are exceptionally with cases of malnutrition exacerbating chronic infections despite widespread vaccinations and social sensitization programmes. The number of infections in these communities are always double than those in planned, affluent suburbs.
COVID-19 is an exceptionally dangerous due to the fact that it is highly infectious even in asymptomatic patients with no current vaccine or cure. While current statistics demonstrate that confirmed cases are low, with none confirmed cases in the compounds, the ravaging effect the virus would have in the slums would be devastating.
The global community of health experts have recommended three simple yet fundamental effective tools to combat the spread of the virus and these strategies need to be critically examined to check their efficacy. The Zambian government, in line with the advice from both local and international health experts have recommended the following:
Hand Washing and Sanitizing:
In the context of slums, hand washing can significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19; however, under the current circumstances, this tool will not work unless access to affordable or free water is provided in the informal settlements. In most settlements like Kanyama, the biggest settlement in Zambia, water is still intermittent, inadequate and expensive for the average employed resident. Currently a 20 litre container is pegged at 50 ngwee and on average a family needs at least 200 litres translating to 5 kwacha every day or 150 kwacha per month, a figure which is unaffordable by most residents, where water is also rationed. In George compound, water kiosks are opened at 6.00 – 10.00 and 17.00 to 18.00. To avoid any escalation, taps need to be opened at all times until the virus is defeated.
The situation is worsened by electricity cuts due to maintenance and load shedding and will further deteriorate due to loss of supply from independent suppliers for the next two weeks. Electricity is needed to pump water by water trusts who are charged with the supply of water as well as private borehole owners in most settlements. Without water, curbing the spread of the COVID-19 through hand washing is impossible. It is time that the Zambian government provides free water in each and every compound.
This strategy will save our government millions of kwachas while saving many lives. It is a travesty that utility companies like Lusaka Water & Sewerage have not yet been directed or capacitated to provide this essential service to the most vulnerable settlements. In the absence of free or affordable clean water, communities will either resort to shallow wells that are heavily contaminated or will opt to use water sparingly thereby not washing hands frequently.
Coupled with provision of free water, should be the provision of hand-washing stations at all public toilets, bus stations, and markets in congested homesteads. The biggest markets like Old Soweto in Lusaka, Masala Market in Ndola, and Chisokone Market in Kitwe should be immediately provided with hand washing facilities and sanitizing agents. Distribution of hand washing stations, sanitisers, soaps needs to be broad based and not simply through locally recognized structures like the Councilor’s Office and the Ward Development Committees. The challenge is bigger than these local structures, grassroots community associations, and savings schemes the likes of the Zambia Homeless and Poor People‘s, but the responsibility of the state. Federations and Cooperatives need to be engaged – involving grassroots associations and savings schemes at the local level is crucial.
Hand washing has been a privilege of medium to high income residents. To exacerbate the exclusion of the poor, almost every shop has quadrupled the price of hand sanitizers owing to the huge demand by those who can afford them. Efforts should be targeted at subsidizing the prices through the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. There is an opportunity to start working with community-based groups to make homemade sanitizers supporting livelihood initiatives in these troubled times.
Social distancing i.e. staying at home, closing schools, isolating the sick, keeping at least 1 meter apart, and avoiding hugging and shaking hands:
Social distancing is currently the least expensive and the most affordable tool to each and every individual; however, in mostly densely populated communities, it is almost unavoidable. Closing the markets and the shops could trigger serious financial security issues as people are likely to starve due to food shortages. Most residents cannot afford to buy food in advance, as they live hand to mouth. A lock down without the possibility of working will cause serious resistance from these vulnerable communities. This demands that people should continue trading but alongside serious protective mechanisms.
Wearing Protective Gear:
Face masks can assist in reducing infection rates of COVID-19 if they are available and affordable. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, face masks have significantly increased in price with poor people have been cut out off completely in accessing masks. An opportunity exists to work with grassroots community groups, savings schemes and cooperatives in the mass production of masks produced with chitenge materials. Government and cooperating partners should channel support to the grassroots to produce masks, as this will inevitably drastically reduce and eliminate the exaggerated prices currently prevailing in the market. A chitenge made mask can be washed and disinfected everyday ensuring that they are accessible to the masses, while providing a sustainable solution.
Overall, it can be seen that efforts to combat the virus should be broad based and all inclusive; organized grassroots associations & savings schemes ought to be at the center of fighting the pandemic, not just health workers or government alone. Any solution being proffered has to be within the reach of the most vulnerable. Water, as a matter of urgency needs to be provided for free by state, private sector and individuals who have their own boreholes. Let’s not make a mistake mistake of making community members mere beneficiaries and health workers and government are seen as the only actors in the fight.
Currently the Zambian Federation & PPHPZ is working closely with the Lusaka City Council & Ministry of Health. They have mobilised sed youth teams in creating COVID-19 related content (videos, posters, jingles, etc.) translated into local languages circulated on social media platforms, local radio stations to sensitize communities. Federation savings & youth members have been trained as hygiene stewards to champion community-led initiatives to educate and distribute hand sanitizers, masks, gloves and liquid soap. PPHPZ has identified local schools, churches and community halls as potential warehouses, distribution centers and spaces to accommodate infected people. The Lusaka Federation will use its Resource Centre in George Township for warehousing food and other essential materials.
Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.
Building Toilets with Our Eyes Closed
Ecosan toilet in Mtandire settlement, Malawi
In almost every major city in the south, Slum Boards, Housing Authorities and Municipalities are charged with building and maintaining toilet blocks in low-income neighbourhoods and slums. Engineers tender for contracts and handle issues of location, design, and construction; municipalities hire external staff (that has no investment in the upkeep) for cleaning and maintenance; and community members are entirely left out of all decision-making processes, and therefore have no sense of ownership. This leads to a situation were the quality of construction is frequently poor, the availability of water is limited, and access to drainage is inadequate. All these problems lead to the early destruction and deterioration of the few working toilets blocks in the city.
The consequences of this approach are obvious: in most cities, there are few operational toilet blocks and slumdwellers are forced to shit in the open. Women must wait until dark to defecate in order to protect their modesty (and often suffer from gastric disorders). Children will squat anywhere and everywhere leaving excrement throughout the settlement. Families, quite literally, are forced to live in shit, suffering from poor health conditions and the spread of disease. In order to alleviate potential public health crises and restore human dignity, SDI affiliates have pioneered a people-driven approach to water and sanitation, building toilets in a way that reifies community capacity
Federations in India, Cambodia, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda have brokered deals with local authorities to design, construct and maintain toilet blocks. Engineers and Municipal officials frequently visit the construction sites – those with insights into the actual needs of the communities are usually available for guidance and support, and those preoccupied with bureaucratic regulations tend to obstruct and control. Both approaches provide opportunities to learn, and in most instances, even the most resistant officials are won over by the Federation’s success.
Federation built and managed toilets have had a profound impact on the health and environment of the slums, and more than is commonly recognized, have instilled a sense of pride and confidence in communities. In an interview, Savita Sonawane, a leader in Pune, India, summed it up by saying: “In the beginning, we did not know what a drawing or a plinth was. We did not understand what a foundation was or how to do plastering. But as we went along, we learnt more and more and now we can build toilets with our eyes closed.”