Mary's Meals flooding update

26 Feb 2015
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The recent January flooding has had a devastating impact on the people of Malawi, particularly vulnerable families who depend on subsistence agriculture. As the country is currently in its lean period, food insecurity trends tend to be high at this time under normal circumstances, as family maize stores are running low, prices are high and the harvest is some months away. The flooding has escalated this situation to a new scale, with thousands of families left homeless and dependent on aid for survival.

An estimated 230,000 people have been displaced by the floods, many losing their entire homes as they were submerged or washed away. 276 people had been killed or are missing, while 65 people had been injured. Nsanje and Chikwawa districts are the worst affected as the Shire River burst its banks into the flood plans covering large areas with water up to three metres deep. The Government of Malawi has declared half the country (15 districts) a disaster zone. It has been estimated that repairing the damage will cost $51 million. Out-with the areas affected by flash floods areas, storms also damaged buildings leaving hundreds of families homeless. 

Schools have been used as displacement camps in most of the affected areas, disrupting classes for an estimated 350,000 pupils. NGOs such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, ShelterBox and World Vision have provided tents to allow classrooms to be vacated in some schools. 

This report sets out an overview of the initial impact the emergency situation has had upon Mary's Meals school feeding and under six programme in Malawi, as well as the emergency response which focused on reaching those households in greatest need. 

1. Impact on Mary's Meals School Feeding and Under 6 Programmes

Working with 571 primary schools across the south, central and north regions of Malawi as well as 45 under six centres, Mary's Meals Malawi team in partnership with local communities have managed to support the programme to continue throughout this challenging period. Due to the extent of flooding disruption, there has been unavoidable disruption to the school feeding programme in the areas of Chikhwawa, Blantyre, Balaka, Mangochi and Zomba. 

Key factors which have impacted on the feeding programme include:

• Attendance of pupils has been affected in most districts; 
• Volunteer attendance is lower;
• Some schools have been closed as a result of damage; 
• 10 schools have been closed whilst serving as emergency shelters for displaced people;
• There have been several deaths of children who participate in MM's School feeding programme as a result of flash floods;
• Access to schools in certain areas is extremely challenging

The Under 6 programme experienced some short term closures for a week in January during the very heavy rains. All 45 centres are operating normally at present.

2. Emergency Response

The Scottish Government gave authorisation to Mary's Meals to utilise an under-spend of £17,000 for the emergency response. Looking at how these funds could be utilised most effectively and efficiently, significant scoping was carried out to establish where the greatest need was, in co-ordination with the UN and WFP. This exercise highlighted gaps in relief for those communities in the East Bank region of Chikwawa, which was affected seriously with thousands of families displaced to camps. With roads closed and many more impassable these communities were all but cut off without outside assistance. The decision was taken to focus the response on ration provision for households within six displacement camps in Chikwawa. 

With the help of the Scottish Government, Mary's Meals was able to take a three pronged approach to the emergency, set out below:

1. From 15th January, provision of CSB to people displaced by floods and storms taking refuge in ten schools that participate in the Mary's Meals School Feeding Programme as well as the provision of material aid to families in two of these three schools. Material aid distributed included toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes, children's clothes and adult's clothes. 

2. From 28th January, provision of CSB and rocket stoves to displacement camps for initial feeding to take place prior to the distribution of rations to families. 

3. From 28th January until 14th February, distributions took place of a one month ration to 1,020 households in six displacement camps in Chikhwawa.

The selection of camps for distribution was made following consultation with DoDMA (Dept. Of Disaster Management Affairs), the Chikwawa District Commissioner's Office and WFP. The approved ration consisted of 50kg maize flour, 10kgs pulses, 10kgs Super Cereal and 2 litres vegetable oil per household. The decision to provide maize flour instead of un-milled maize was due to the difficulty of milling maize in the affected areas. 


3. Management of response 

For all tiers of the response, strict protocols were drawn up for staff and communities involved in the relief efforts, including guidance for schools providing CSB for displaced families. The actual distributions in the camps were managed by senior management with support from logistics and programme staff supported by field officers. Training in Rocket stoves and safe serving of CSB was given by Programme managers and field officers. Distributions of material supplies was carried out by logistics and programmes staff.

Most of the distributions have been delivered by our main suppliers, RAB Processors, with support from Mary's Meals 4x4 for two trips due to accessibility. Access has been difficult due to muddy roads and our vehicles have been stuck on several occasions.

Distributions can be challenging due to the desperate need of the refugees and inevitable disagreements about which families are included in the distribution lists which are provided by Traditional Authorities (village chiefs) and then later verified by World Vision, WFP and Red Cross with house to house visits. Similarly, serving of CSB can be difficult and hazardous. All of this was managed well with support from the Civic Protection Units stationed at some of the camps. All distributions have been carefully logged and recorded. 

4. Further considerations 

Mary's Meals response to the flood has been timely, effective and well-coordinated with the GoM and other donors. However, the current situation remains dire for thousands of Malawians who are reliant on aid for their basic needs.

Food insecurity will continue to rise as crops have been destroyed and need to be replanted. In the meantime, the 230,000 families who are displaced will be reliant to a large extent on food aid. Further inputs in agriculture, shelter, medicine, sanitation, non-food items, clothes and blankets are being provided by other NGOs.

Mary's Meals priority is for our feeding programme to return to normal. We are also considering whether to extend ration distribution to reach households for a further month. 

We take the opportunity to express our thanks and appreciation for the Scottish Government's prompt and flexible action which enabled us to assist families affected by the Malawi flooding speedily and effectively.


Oscar Mendoza
Director of Programmes - Mary's Meals International
February 2015