DoDMA shifts blame on DCs for alleged accusations of selective distribution of relief aid for flood victims in Balaka

Food and non-food relief distribution by Gift of the Givers in Phalula on Thursday

* Only one area Phimbi is being concentrated on despite official reports of plenty others in Balaka South

* Gift of the Givers indicate that they only go to areas which DoDMA suggests for them

* But DoDMA denies it saying they do not dictate where well-wishers can reach out to or whom to give

* But only offer information on where reports of needs are

* Over 7,515 households in Balaka were affected by Cyclone Ana which forced many of them to seek refuge in relief camps

By Duncan Mlanjira

The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) says it does not distribute disaster relief items but rather hand them over to District Councils based on reports from the District Commissioners, who in turn identify the needy beneficiaries.

This follows accusations that there seems to be some selective distribution of relief aid for Tropical Cyclone Ana flood victims in Balaka where only one area is being concentrated on despite official reports of plenty others in Balaka South.

There have been distribution exercises in Balaka which concerned people thought were organised by DoDMA in the past weeks for relief items, which excluded several of the most affected families in Nkaya while concentrating only on Mphimbi in Balaka South.

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A report by Malawi News Agency (MANA) indicated that last Thursday Gift of the Givers Foundation reached out to some 500 households in Phalula and Chanthunya in Balaka for various food and no-food items.

The report further said over 7,515 households in Balaka were affected by Cyclone Ana which forced many of them to relocate by seeking refuge in relief camps — most of which were churches and schools.

Project officer for Gift of the Givers, Innocent Mankhwazi told MANA that this was their third visit to Balaka where they distributed items such as food stuffs, shoes, as well as household utensils for affected families in T/A Kalembo, Amidu and Nkaya (Balaka South).

Cash handout for some parts of Balaka by Malawi Red Cross Society

However, many families were left homeless in Balaka South and as focus of relief items distribution is only in one area of Phimbi, some stranded people in three relief camps of Nkaya, Nsamala and Mpilisi were forced to repatriate from relief camps and seek refuge in their relations’ homes.

As DoDMA or the District Council paid more attention on Phimbi, the flood victims in the other camps were encouraged to go back to their homes and when contacted, Balaka South Member of Parliament, Ireen Mambala confirmed the development — saying she was forced to reach out to two camps with relief items from her own resources.

Schedules of distribution by Balaka Council

She also confirmed that the victims were being encouraged to repatriate back home if their relations can afford to host them, taking cognizance that the spaces they were being accommodated in were too small.

When asked if there were other wellwishers who came forward to assist, the MP said there haven’t been much but only acknowledged the presence of World Vision which reportedly distributed temporary sheets to Muluma evacuation center.

When contacted MP Mambala denied having any knowledge of the Gift of the Givers reaching out to the affected three camps in her Constituency as reported by MANA, saying only Phimbi was assisted.

MP Mambala reaching out to affected families

When contacted, Gift of the Givers indicated that they only go to areas which DoDMA suggests for them.

But DoDMA spokesperson, Chimwemwe Njoloma said the Department does not dictate where well-wishers can reach out to or whom to give but only offer information on where reports of needs are.

Njoloma said DoDMA does not force any well-wisher to hand over the relief items to them in order for them to distribute on their behalf, saying “logistically, it’s better for us when well-wishers go to provide relief items themselves”.

This comes after some charitable organisations have preferred to distribute relief items themselves rather than using DoDMA, an indication that they are not comfortable to work with DoDMA for whatever reason for their loss confidence on the government department.

Kazako interacting with victims in Chikwawa

A few weeks ago, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) engaged Minister of Information Gospel Kazako to do the physical handover in Chikwawa while as soon as tragedy struck last month, Malawi Relief Fund UK swiftly reached out to affected people in Lower Shire — distributing on their own.

Meanwhile, MP Mambala was forced to create a diversion by destroying crops on some people’s maize gardens in order to temporary connect a road that was cut off at Nkaya — a vital access road between Balaka Town and Utale Catholic Mission all the way to Shire North.

The road was cut off by floods caused by Rivi Rivi River and MP Mambala took upon herself to use her personal money to compensate the affected families.

A compromised bridge in Balaka South

On Thursday, in partnership with Balaka DC, Macloud Kadammanja, Malawi Red Cross Society disbursed cash to 151 households in the districts and several flood affected areas in Balaka were skipped and only Phimbi folks benefitted.

According to MANA, beneficiaries whose households were completely destroyed received K75,000 and those whose houses were partially damaged received K60,000, a donation which came from the European Union Humanitarian Aid to help them buy building materials to build back their houses.

The Society’s vice-president, Steven Naziri told MANA that their donors preferred to give cash than material as they know part of the money could go towards buying food and other needs within the households, saying the donors are aware that most of the households do not have food.

When asked if DoDMA was aware of the cutoff road at Nkaya, and if so why didn’t they swiftly act on it, Njoloma said this was not DoDMA’s jurisdiction to manage such a crisis but rather District Councils, which as supposed report cut off roads to Roads Authority directly.

“It’s the responsibility of Roads Authority and Councils to maintain the roads, not DoDMA,” Njoloma said, while dodging the question if DoDMA was aware of the cut-off point due to the floods.

When made aware of this response from DoDMA, MP Mambala was surprised of such lack of responsibility because in the first place destruction of some road networks contributed towards failure to reach out to some affected people for relief items.

“They ought to have known of such challenges we faced due to the floods and in turn, as a department responsible for disaster management, they should have been in the forefront to work with the Council and Roads Authority for swift intervention.

“That to me is part of disaster management and it saddens me to hear of such response. But anyway, I have engaged the responsible Ministry for its intervention because this part of the Rivi Rivi needs some serious attention to as a long term solution.”

MP Mambala

In an earlier interview, Nkaya area development committee chairperson, Ajilu Pete — who negotiated with the families on behalf of the MP — said they had to intervene because this road is very important as it connects people to access health services at Balaka District Hospital as well as the Catholic Church Mission hospital at Utale.

He said a long term solution is to have the Rivi Rivi River’s be diverted back to its course and its banks be re-enforced by building dykes because if this continues the whole of Chipanga Village might be swept away.

The trading centre at Mponda, just a stone throw away from the affected road spot, is also under jeopardy because the river’s embarkment does not have rocks to hold off the water and keeps crumbling year in and year out.

In the past weeks, the Rivi Rivi kept rising from rains that fell upland threatening further destruction of crops along its route to the Shire River.

MP Mambala said every year when it rains, most roads become impassable and the challenges are so huge such that the constituency development fund cannot sustain but needs special funding as  properly planned projects.

She also had indicated that the Rivi Rivi cuts through Utale — demarcating it into Utale 1 and Utale 2 — and when it floods, school kids fail to attend classes year in and year out.

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It also poses huge challenges for people to access social services in Utale 1 from the other side of the river such as the hospital, secondary school and the market during rainy season.

Mambala said there is urgent need to construct a bridge between Utale 1 and Utale 2 but the constituency development fund cannot sustain such a project.

The Rivi Rivi is mostly an annual river but when it rains, it floods — thus rendering people on either side of Utale fail to connect each other for days on.

DoDMA also dodged the question if the MP would be refunded for the compensation that she has offered to affected families, whose crops were destroyed to create a road diversion or whether it would facilitate that this road be restored by the relevant concerned authorities as part of its mandate in disaster management.