Malawi floods behave like a ‘slow tsunami’, death toll increases


According to Government of Malawi, an estimated 120 000 people (22 000 households) have been displaced due to heavy rainfall and floods by January 16, 2015. Although some areas already received a month’s worth of rain within 24 hours forecasts warn there is more to come. 

The floods have by now affected 15 of Malawi's 28 districts with the most affected being Nsanje, Chikwawa and Phalombe in the south of the country.

Media reports today say at least 176 people have lost their lives. 

Vice president Saulos Chilima said efforts to rescue thousands of people are becoming difficult because of bad weather and many roads inaccessible either because bridges have been washed away or simply because there is too much rain.

Up to 20 000 people around Malawi's southern tip are without food, healthcare or clean water, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in yesterday's statement, with helicopters offering the only chance of assistance.

"The floods are behaving like a slow tsunami with the river swelling progressively downstream towards the south and Mozambique," said Amaury Grégoire, MSF's head of mission in Malawi, referring to the River Shire, the country's largest.

"Most of Nsanje and East Bank are submerged under two to three meters of water, which has transformed these vast plains into a giant lake engulfing houses and bridges," he said as quoted by TimesLIVE.

Principal secretary for Disaster Management Affairs, Paul Chiunguzeni, said that what the country has witnessed by now is only the beginning of the onset of rains.

“The government is urging people living in flood-prone districts to urgently relocate to upland areas to avoid losing more lives,” he said.


Flood situation in the central and northern provinces of Mozambique is also worsening. Floods there are thought to have affected around 100 000 people by January 15 with the worst hit area being the province of Zambezia, where the Licungo river has overflowed forcing between 15 000 to 20 000 people to leave their homes.

Search and rescue operations are underway, and coordination systems are being strengthened, but new information on number of people affected and displaced is expected in the coming days, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.


Rainfall is expected to continue over the entire southern Africa over the next week, although not as heavily over currently flood-affected areas of northern and central Mozambique and southern Malawi.

The areas expected to receive the most rainfall include most of Angola, Tanzania and Zambia, northern and central Malawi, Madagascar and Mauritius.

The flood situation may therefore worsen across southern Africa over the coming days and weeks, OCHA said.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center say the heavy rainfall is a result of a change of the southern Africa Monsoon, leaving areas seeing 150% higher rainfall than normal.


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