Tropical storm Malawi: cholera and hunger are looming

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Tropical storm Malawi: cholera and hunger are looming

Amarylle van Doorn

Tropical storm Freddy wreaked havoc in Malawi in mid-March. The cry for help is particularly strong in the badly affected south. Hunger and cholera threaten there.

In the south of Malawi, where the storm – which lasted an exceptionally long time – did its devastating work on Sunday 12 March, famine and cholera are lurking. ‘There was already a major cholera outbreak before the storm,’ says intern Amarylle van Doorn of the Free University of Amsterdam. She had just been in Zomba, Malawi, for two weeks when disaster struck. The death toll from the storm is now in the hundreds and the number of homeless in the thousands. Food prices are also rising, according to the World Food Programme.

Despair

In the area where Van Doorn works in the hospital, the damage is not too bad. ‘This area is higher up and there is a dam nearby, but in Blantyre and further south it rained heavily and incessantly for several days.’ Climate change is increasing the risk of stronger tropical storms, experts predict.

A group of German medical students is also staying in the hospital where Van Doorn works. Together they raised money. They then drove with Van Doorn’s Malawian housemate – from the south – and a Malawian pastor first to Kapeni (Blantyre) to offer help. ‘There we found people who had lost their homes and were looking for shelter.’ Various government buildings, such as schools, served as shelters. Upon inquiry, it turned out that there was a particular need for, for example: blankets, plastic shoes and cornmeal; in terms of medical supplies, these included: ORS and chlorine. They also visited a shelter close to the badly affected Mulanje. ‘The atmosphere quickly changed here when we handed out stuff. People are desperate.’

Internships

In seven days they visited a total of eight shelters. “The money we raised is now gone. We bought an average of 2000 euros worth of food and stuff per day.’ The German students are going home soon. Van Doorn will stay for another four weeks for her internship. Small local initiatives have now been set up that offer help, says Van Doorn, but large-scale help from the Malawian government has not yet started in most places.

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