2021-2022 Trócaire Annual ReportLearn More
Trócaire stands in solidarity with all those affected by Cyclone Freddy and is providing immediate relief in partnership with the Catholic University of Malawi
Since early February 2023, the weather forecasts on Cyclone Freddy were followed almost hourly in our Trócaire office in Lilongwe, Malawi. Trócaire and partner organisations worked with village protection committees and Chiefs to ensure adequate warnings were given to people living in areas that could potentially be impacted. In the lower Shire River basin in southern Malawi, floods are not new to people. Almost every year, they face severe flooding and people are encouraged by their local leaders to move their families and livestock to higher ground.
Cyclone Freddy first made landfall in southern Africa on 24 February 2023, causing havoc in neighbouring Mozambique, and in Madagascar previously. When it left for the Indian Ocean on 1 March, there was a sigh of relief in Malawi; ‘perhaps this year we will not be hit by a cyclone’. People were still recovering and rebuilding from the impacts of Cyclone Ana and tropical Storm Gombe of early 2022, and even from Cyclone Idai of 2019. Yet, no one could have predicted the severity with which Cyclone Freddy, the longest-running tropical storm in history, would return to the continent and hit Malawi.
When it did return, it brought torrential rains to the southern part of Malawi from 11 to 13 March 2023. Rains that caused severe floods, unimaginable apocalypse-like mudslides and landslides, cut off main roads and bridges, destroyed crops, houses, schools, health centres, washed away entire villages and killed hundreds of people, making over half a million people homeless, while also killing thousands of livestock and other animals.
On 13 March 2023, the President of Malawi, H.E. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, declared a state of emergency in the affected districts, and a subsequent period of 14 days of national mourning. Trócaire mourns with Malawi, for the loss of life, and all those still missing or injured. Yet, together with our partner organisations, we are also determined to support where we can, and we have.
To date, Cyclone Freddy has affected 15 districts in the south of Malawi, which is over half of the country, and an area larger than Ireland.
As of Thursday 23 March, the Government of Malawi confirmed that 511 people have died and 1,332 people are injured. 533 People are still reported as missing and, sadly, more than a week after the cyclone, it is unlikely that people will be found alive. Over half a million people were displaced and are staying in 577 temporary shelters. These are mostly converted classrooms, church buildings, storage space, or makeshift tents, most with inadequate water and sanitation facilities and insufficient food.
Many of the temporary camps are still inaccessible due to the numerous roads and bridges that were destroyed, cutting off entire areas. As a result, hundreds of people have still not been reached and have gone for days without food and drinking water. Parts of the country have had no electricity for over ten days, hampering the urgent relief efforts and assistance needed for survivors. As if this is not enough, the situation is compounded by an ongoing cholera outbreak, the worst in Malawi’s history, which has claimed the lives of over 1,684 people and overstretched medical facilities, as well as a dire economic situation which has seen most food prices quadruple in the last year.
One of the very badly hit villages, was the village of Ntauchira, near Nguludi and the Catholic University of Malawi in Chiradzulu District. Very early in the morning of 14 March 2023, people woke up to a deafening sound, a roaring thunder, pouring rain, screaming and chaos. Those who were able to come outside of their home, were struck with fear and disbelief when they were surrounded by a stream of thick mud metres high and hundreds of metres wide and huge rocks that seem to have appeared out of nowhere. A mud stream so forceful it swept away everything in its path, uprooting trees, and taking entire houses, a water pump, people, and animals. Many of Ntauchira’s homes, some with entire families inside disappeared in the deep mud stream, with other people trying to cling to trees, high reeds, or anything they could find to hold on to in order to survive.
After the storm had calmed and the mudslide somewhat subsided, surviving Ntauchira community members rescued around 100 of their fellow villagers from the mud. They did this with sheer commitment, their bare hands and own strength, without any tools and without any help from government, the army or professional rescue workers. About 60 of the people were taken to the nearby Mission Hospital in Nguludi. The most severely injured people were taken to the Government Hospital in Blantyre city.
The Catholic University of Malawi, who partner with Trócaire through student climate justice clubs and advocacy around climate change, immediately mobilised its staff and vehicles to provide lifesaving support. They transported the injured people to the hospital and brought other displaced people to safer places for temporary shelter, while also taking those who died to the mortuary. As of 22 March 2023, the Chief of Ntauchire village confirmed that eleven of their people died, including seven children, while seventeen people are still missing.
Trócaire supported the Catholic University’s appeal for any in kind or cash assistance to the people of Ntauchira village. University staff and students conducted an assessment to ascertain the most urgent needs of survivors in the village, the hospital and the temporary shelters. They then procured the necessary items and assembled the packages. They worked tirelessly around the clock to get everything packed. Large quantities of donations in the form of food, clothing and kitchen utensils were also packed.
On Saturday 18 March 2023, the Catholic University’s Vice Chancellor, Rev. Dr. Fr. George Buleya and I led a delegation of staff and about 80 students to visit the injured people in the hospital and those released from the hospital and their family members who are in a temporary shelter at the Nguludi Girls’ Primary School.
The teams then walked to the village of Ntauchirae, which is about a 2.5 kms walk as the roads are inaccessible to cars. Students and staff carried the parcels on their heads and backs, cheering each other on and determined to help, even though most hadn’t slept the night before. The various items were handed over to the Village Chief, Mr Lucius Hanke.
The various items were handed over to the Village Chief, Mr Lucius Hanke.
Trócaire also works with the National Office of the Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM) in Phalombe District, where 4,673 families were assisted with buckets, blankets and kitchen utensils.
Furthermore, in Chikwawa District, Trócaire and partner organisation, Circle for Integrated Community Development (CICOD) started distribution of chlorine for water disinfection, buckets and food to 1,432 families.
The devastation, destruction of the village and the landscape, and especially the shock and sadness of the people we visited, cannot be described or captured in images. Yet, I was encouraged by the love and compassion of the students and community members who helped each other untiringly. While Malawi has a long road to recovery, this solidarity and love gave me hope and courage that we shall overcome. During this Lenten period, and always, please keep the people of Malawi in your heart and prayers.
Trócaire and the people of Malawi thank the people of Ireland for their kind support
Please watch a short video produced by the Catholic University of Malawi of our joint visit here, Please note that there are some disturbing images in this video.