Half a million displaced in Malawi by cyclone: Humanitarian needs soar

By International Organization for Migration

Half a million displaced in Malawi by cyclone: Humanitarian needs soar

Nearly 508,250 people have been displaced and at least 499 killed (as of 20 March) by the flooding following Tropical Cyclone Freddy, as it made landfall in Malawi, leaving a trail of destruction on livelihoods, houses, and infrastructure in its wake.

Since 12 March, heavy rains, strong winds, and floods attributed to the cyclone have had a devastating toll on the people across 14 districts – nearly half the country – with at least 1,300 people injured and 427 missing, according to authorities. Those affected are in dire need of urgent humanitarian support with the most immediate needs being shelter, food, clean water, sanitation, hygiene, health, and protection.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), alongside other United Nations (UN) agencies, is working with the government of Malawi to support those affected in over 500 accommodation centers across flood-affected areas, the majority of which are in Nsanje, Chikwawa, and Mulanje districts. The Organization is providing support, as the UN co-lead on shelter and camp coordination and management cluster alongside the government and the Malawi Red Cross Society.

Search and rescue operations are in progress, with more than 1,000 people evacuated by 17 March. The flooding is increasing the risk of waterborne diseases including cholera which the country has been facing prior to the cyclone.

“The people of Malawi are facing yet another catastrophic disaster with a potential long-lasting effect. It is important that we urgently reach the affected communities as the needs grow by the hour,” said António Vitorino, Director General of IOM. “The recurrence of cyclones, floods, and droughts in the region and the increased frequency of such hazards in the last few years is evidence of the growing need for adaptive capacity and disaster risk reduction.”

Southern Africa faces such climate-related disasters almost every year. This reality demonstrates the urgent need to adopt decisive measures in the region to avert, minimize and address such events, more support is needed as countries in the region develop systems and approaches to facilitate the management and responses to these disasters.

The impact of Cyclone Freddy’s landfall on Malawi comes at the back of its previous landfall (in February) in Mozambique and Madagascar where over 1 million people have been affected, and more than 160,000 people internally displaced.

In the past decade, storms, floods, extreme droughts, and other climate-related hazards have caused an estimated annual average of 21.6 million internal displacements worldwide. In Sub-Saharan Africa, disasters triggered 2.6 million internal displacements by 2021. Disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, and environmental degradation are increasingly driving migration and displacement in all regions of the world and especially in countries with high vulnerability and exposure, and low adaptive capacity.

IOM is calling for immediate lifesaving assistance to respond to the current needs and the development of durable solutions in sustainably averting, minimizing, and addressing disaster displacement including through climate adaptation measures, preparedness, and disaster risk reduction to strengthen people’s resilience.