Some local observers are suggesting that deforestation in upland areas has contributed to the current flood disaster in Malawi, particularly around Blantyre and Zomba.
However, there is some hope that the issue of deforestation will be addressed in the country’s newly approved National Disaster Risk Management Policy.
The Need to Tackle Deforestation
Talking to Thomson Reuters Foundation last week, Paul Chiunguzeni, the principal secretary and commissioner for Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) spoke of the need to tackle deforestation in upland areas.
Mr Chiunguzeni highlighted the need to tackle deforestation in upland areas, after the cities of Blantyre and Zomba experienced flash floods due to trees being cut down on surrounding hills.
In the same article, Tamani Nkhono-Mvula, executive director of Malawi’s Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) said that:
“The level of deforestation has contributed to the increased level of impact of the disasters.”
According to the Trust article, the torrential rainfall that fell on the bare hillsides around Blantyre meant that flash floods “barrelled down the deforested Ndirande Mountain and Soche Hill, wreaking havoc on the densely populated townships of Ndirande and Chilobwe”.
Deforestation on Zomba mountain, combined with the torrential rain, resulted in flash floods that caused destruction in nearby townships around the city of Zomba, in particular Matawale township.
Blantyre, Zomba and Mulanje
Blantyre is Malawi’s second largest city, with over 1 million inhabitants. It is also the country’s financial and commercial centre. It is surrounded by the steep hillsides of Mount Soche, Ndirande mountain, Chiradzulu mountain and Michiru Mountain.
However, large areas of the hillsides have been cleared in recent years, for construction, fuel and agricultural use. Deforestation has removed the natural barriers to flooding that once surrounded the city, as well as causing soil erosion and soil degradation.
It is a similar story in the city of Zomba, at the foot of Zomba Mountain in the Shire Highlands, southern Malawi. Further south, areas of Mulanje Mountain have also been subject to deforestation. Mulanje suffered severe flooding in early January 2015 when the heavy rains struck.
New National Disaster Risk Management Policy
It is hoped that Malawi’s new National Disaster Risk Management Policy, which was approved by the Malawi Cabinet yesterday, will mean better regulations to protect forested areas, and where possible, areas stripped of trees will be reforested, and so protect surrounding areas from floods and landslides.
The new policy has been a long time in the making. In a statement yesterday, the president said works to have the policy started in 1991 but were facing numerous challenges. It took the recent floods – the worst in 40 years – to push the new disaster policy forward.
The Malawi government statement said:
“The policy, according to the February 4, DoDMA update on the flood situation, would guide stakeholders in implementing programmes and activities to effectively address disaster risks hence reducing the impact of disasters amongst communities in the country”.
Flash Flood Damage, Soche Hill, Blantyre
One of our contacts in Malawi, journalist Agnes Mizere, was able to visit flood hit areas around Soche Hill in Blantyre. She told us of the destruction caused by the flash floods and how the water raced down the bare hillsides, taking with it rocks and debris, and destroying houses. Several families there lost loved ones in the flash floods.
The photos and captions below show the destruction left behind by the floods. All photos and captions are courtesy of Agnes Mizere and are used here with permission.
With thanks to Agnes Mizere and the people of Blantyre for contributing to this report. Follow Agnes on Twitter here.