Without sufficient global leadership and financing, the problems created by climate change here in Malawi cannot be solved. As a landlocked country in southern Africa where more than 80 percent of the population reside in rural areas, the vast majority of Malawi’s 19 million inhabitants still depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The impacts of climate change threaten the production of staple foods that families rely on and are putting lives at risk. The fact that agricultural production is largely rainfed with little irrigation farming and therefore more susceptible to the vagaries of the unreliable rains and extreme weather only serves to heighten this risk. Climate change impacts other sectors such as fisheries and forestry – all which provide food and income to rural communities throughout Malawi.
The need to respond to the severe impacts of climate change is urgent as it is already having a detrimental impact on Malawi. It is the rural Malawians who are being impacted the most though it is the actions of those on different continents that are most to blame for the devastating changes they are experiencing.
Cyclone Idai, which hit Malawi in 2019, is one example of how climate change is affecting Malawians. The cyclone caused an estimated £220 million in damages and directly impacted over 975,000 people, killing 60, injuring 672, and leaving more than 86,000 without homes.
I was on the ground in the days following the disaster and saw first-hand the destruction that the cyclone left. Fields that had been full of crops nearly ready to be harvested were destroyed, livestock which used to roam within communities, and which were so vital to the survival of communities, were gone – carried away by flood waters. Where there once were houses teeming with families, all that was left was rumble on the ground.
People did what they could to escape the worst of the cyclone and most, thankfully, had managed to move to either local evacuation centres or to higher ground where the flood waters were not as high. However, they needed urgent support, which Trócaire was able to provide through the generous support of our supporters in Ireland, the Start Network and Irish Aid. Trócaire together with our partners (CICOD, ZARDD, CARD, SWAM and CADECOM Mangochi) responded immediately to the disaster and reached over 65,000 people helping them to rebuild their livelihoods and to protect their dignity.
Cyclone Idai was a storm the like of which Malawians had never seen before. The UN said it was ‘one of the worst weather-related disasters ever to hit the southern hemisphere’. In a matter of hours, it had wiped away many of the hard-won gains that had been achieved through years of locally led initiatives. However, even against this some might ask was there not more that these vulnerable communities could have done to reduce the impacts of the cyclone?
Communities were able to work together to mitigate the impacts of the disaster through community led actions both before, during and after the disaster. Activities such as strengthening riverbanks using sandbags, not planting near riverbanks, planting trees, digging swales and coordinating community structures took place. This helped communities both prepare for, and respond more effectively to, disasters and meant that the losses registered and the number of lives lost were less than would have been the case otherwise. The findings of Trócaire’s research on the impacts Cyclone Idai noted that the Trócaire resilience programming had contributed to strengthened household and community capacity to build resilience and had helped to minimise the impacts of the cyclone on some communities. This shows that community led adaption and mitigation efforts are key to addressing the impacts of climate change but communities cannot tackle this problem alone. What is needed is strong coordinated global, national and regional action.
There is an urgent need for the heads of global and regional groupings, states and governments to formulate, implement and adequately resource pro-poor climate change policies and actions. Without sufficient global leadership and financing, the problems created by climate change cannot be solved. And it will only lead to more injustices and the inability for the poorest to access their basic needs.
What is happening in Malawi is just one example of the many injustices poor people across the globe face as a result of climate change. We believe that the current COP26 summit is the best platform for world leaders and politicians to use for discussing immediate and determined political action to address climate change before it becomes irreversible.
About the Author
Phillip Nyasulu is Trócaire Malawi’s Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction Officer. He has worked with Trócaire for over six years and in this time has helped to coordinate our DRR and Humanitarian programming in Malawi