PWSD LogoThe Presbyterian Church in Canada is responding to Cyclone Freddy in Malawi through Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D) .

Latest Update, April 19, 2023, by the Rev. Dr. Blair D. Bertrand, who serves as a Malawi Liaison with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) in the Synod of Blantyre.

The Rev. Dr. Blair Bertrand, who is in Malawi, writes that the situation in the country, while stable, is difficult, with reports of some 500,000 people still seeking shelter after Cyclone Freddy made landfall twice in the country’s southern region earlier this year. These temporary shelters have been set up in schools, all closed for weeks across the southern region, where rainfall continues intermittently.

“Zomba Theological University has taken up a collection and is providing food, clothes, and other basic goods such as soap,” reports Blair. “This is very common. I preached at a church that had collected clothes from churches in Livingstonia and was going to provide them to people.” The CCAP Blantyre Synod has mobilized its congregations to provide mutual support to the most hard-hit communities. As well, CCAP congregations and their ministers are on the ground, providing counselling and spiritual support for communities traumatized by death and displacement.

Blair has been travelling throughout the southern region, visiting rural congregations, and preaching over Easter at Mongochi in the Yao territory. He also visited the village of Nguludi, which was swept away by a massive landslide, with lives lost and seventeen people still not accounted for. Concern has also been expressed about the structural integrity of churches. For instance, the historic St. Michael’s and All Angels have been closed because of the impact of the water saturation. In smaller communities, churches and prayer houses (many prayer houses can seat up to 200, so they are substantial buildings) have sustained damage. The visiting group of Bertrand, the Rev. Glenn Inglis and the Rev. Thokozani Chilembwe also stopped at a prayer house that had two of its wall collapse. However, “they have a realistic hope that they can rebuild it,” Blair writes.

PWS&D provided an initial contribution to its partner, Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD), to assist with search and rescue efforts, needs assessments and immediate food for evacuated households. As of April 12, 325 households living in temporary shelters received an initial food distribution of a 10 kg bag of maize flour, as well as soya packets, to enable them to meet their immediate food requirements. PWS&D continues to work with our partners on the next phase of our response to the disaster.

Additionally, because of crisis food insecurity as a result of climate-related shocks, including Cyclone Ana which hit southern Malawi in January 2022, PWS&D is implementing a three-month food assistance project for 2,500 households. This project, which started in February 2023, is providing food assistance in the form of cash transfers, as well as seeds to produce high-value crops. However, Cyclone Freddy also hit many of the communities receiving assistance, and some of the seeds provided through the project were washed away. CARD plans to replace the seeds to ensure that project participants will be able to meet their food needs.

Latest Update, March 20, 2023, by the Rev. Dr. Blair D. Bertrand, who serves as a Malawi Liaison with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) in the Synod of Blantyre.

Thankfully, many of our direct partners in Malawi have come through the worst of it intact. The Vice Chancellor of Zomba Theological University (ZTU) confirms that while classes were cancelled, there was no loss of life in the immediate university community. Likewise, with Churches Action Relief and Development (CARD), the “CARD family” made it days after the storm.

All Malawians in the southern region now face the aftermath of one of the most traumatizing and difficult experiences they have faced. Connex Kalinde, staff with the Mennonite Central Committee and a local pastor, said, “I have seen with my eyes [the] wiping away of close to a hundred houses about 500 metres from where I stay in Blantyre.” While trying to help others, he feared that his house would suffer the same fate.

Hamilton Banda, the coordinator for the Ndirande Handicap Centre, a ministry that aids and equips people with physical and mental disabilities in one of the largest and poorest urban areas in Malawi, is both thankful and despairing. Through ceaseless efforts, the Centre has built a location that has remained safe through the numerous landslides. There is hope that they can help their community. On the other hand, at least 15 of the most vulnerable have lost their homes and latrines. The dangers of inadequate sanitation, such as cholera, are now very real for those already struggling with difficult life circumstances.

Others, such as Chance Mhango, a student at ZTU, talk about the uncertainty of what is to come. He had heard that “even Chawe Dam is not [safe] at all. People are saying it is full to [the] maximum, bringing fear down here.” The dam he refers to holds back a large lake on the top of the Zomba plateau. If it were to break, the entire city would face flood conditions.

There is an immediate need to help with search and rescue, with food and water, and with putting infrastructure, such as roads, back together. Facebook and WhatsApp groups keep each other apprised of current road conditions, with entire regions in the southern part of the country inaccessible due to flooding.

The long-term analysis will reveal that the severity of the landslides has been exacerbated by deforestation. Deforestation occurs at a devastating pace because charcoal is the main source of fuel for the majority of Malawians. Without trees, the soil cannot absorb the rain; instead, it washes away. So, not only are small homes, primarily built with mud-based bricks, susceptible to rain and flood damage, but these homes sit on deforested areas increasingly prone to flooding and landslide.

Cyclone Freddy Damage Southern Malawi

Cyclone Freddy destruction: Photo provided by Mrs. Nguluwe-Chikhwaza.

Updates from the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian – Synod of Blantyre in the south of the country where Tropical Storm Freddy has left destruction in its wake, and from the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) – Synod of Livingstonia located in northern Malawi. CCAP – Synod of Blantyre and CCAP – Synod of Livingstonia are partners of The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC).

The General Secretary of CCAP – Synod of Blantyre, the Rev. Dr. Billy Gama, wrote in a statement that Cyclone Freddy has caused widespread devastation in the southern parts of Malawi. The cyclone, reported as one of the most powerful tropical storms to hit the southern hemisphere, has torn through Malawi a second time, resulting in the deaths of some 220 people, with many more people injured and missing.

The Rev. Dr. Billy Gama, who appealed for assistance in a written statement on behalf of Synod of Blantyre, noted that the Synod “is mobilizing support through its churches to support” those affected by the cyclone and asking that “all churches open their church buildings to be used as shelters” for those who have lost their homes to the cyclone. Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D) has sent money in response to the cyclone to assist in search and rescue efforts and provide food items in evacuation camps. Funds will also be used to enable assessment teams to determine the best possible response to the disaster.

In the northern part of the country, people face another, different disaster. While the tropical storm demolished homes and swept away whole villages in the southern parts of the country, some districts in the north are caught in a drought, which has withered crops. Mphatso Nguluwe-Chikhwaza, the director for the CCAP – Synod of Livingstonia’s health department, wrote in an update to the PCC, “Malawi is not well, […] with people washed away like leaves.”

Compounding these two disasters is a cholera outbreak and spiralling food prices. Mphatso Nguluwe-Chikhwaza reported that the tropical storm and the drought “will be very hard for [her] work because issues like cholera and malnutrition will increase and at the same time the little money which the government would have set [aside] for medical supplies will be diverted to the disasters.” She asked that we “continue praying” for Malawi. “We value all your prayers, and we thank God for you.”

Cyclone Freddy Yellow Storefront

Flooding due to Cyclone Freddy. Photo provided by CCAP – Synod of Blantyre.

We will update this post as we receive information from our other partners in Malawi, including the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) – Synod of Blantyre in the south of Malawi and PCC mission staff working with partners in the country.