CHIKWAWA, MALAWI — Malawi is struggling to get relief aid to victims of Cyclone Idai, which killed at least 60 people and displaced hundreds of thousands earlier this month. While the heaviest-hit southern areas are largely cut off, one Malawian activist is on a personal mission to help those affected.
Businesswoman Abida Mia has collected $20,000 worth of food, blankets and clothes for Malawian victims. Her charity, Reach Out and Touch, delivers maize, fish, blankets, clothes, and plastic sheets for makeshift shelters to those most in need.
The work began about two weeks ago, when Mia saw firsthand the destruction caused by cyclone flooding.
“It happened so suddenly, and I obviously had some money that I budgeted for other things to do. So, I took all that cash aside and said, ‘Let’s buy maize and go into the field and assist the people’ because there is such huge need, and people were starving and didn’t have anything to eat,” said Mia, who with her husband raises livestock and operates one of Malawi’s largest butcheries.
People noticed Mia’s efforts and began bringing their donations to her home in Blantyre.
“And I was really shocked,” she said. “People were actually walking in from their homes maybe 15 to 20 kilometers away with some clothes that they wanted to give, and they were bringing fairly new clothes.”
Mia estimates Reach Out and Touch has helped over 1,000 flood survivors.
The group brings the aid to hard-to-reach areas like East Bank, where roads and bridges suffered severe damage.
Despite their efforts, flood-affected Malawians like Modester Jackson say there are still many people in need.
Jackson says that despite the aid, their homes are empty. The victims are appealing to the government to provide seeds so they can replant after the water recedes.
Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management and Preparedness says Cyclone Idai affected nearly a million people in the country.
Officials say $30 million is needed for flood-displaced villagers living in 187 evacuation camps.
Alfred Fundi, manager of Chikwawa’s Mphimbi Evacuation Camp, says they were given only four tents for accommodation, and many people have no proper place to sleep. It gets worse when it rains, he says, adding that some people find refuge in school classrooms, while others squeeze in at the health center.
In the long term, Mia says, villagers need to be moved to higher ground to avoid flooding, but in the meantime, Reach Out and Touch will to do what it can to help Malawi’s victims of Cyclone Idai.