It is pathetic to see how fellow Malawians and other residents are suffering following the devastating flash floods that swept away their houses and other household items in Rumphi District and Lilongwe City, a few days ago.
Sudden as it came, the disaster can be confusing to the affected families; no wonder one victim poured out her heart to The Sunday Times reporter as to why God had allowed the incident to happen to them.
These are people who had various plans to uplift their lives and indirectly contribute to the development of the nation. Some of them claimed to have lost merchandise that was bought with money from lending institutions while others lost valuable documents.
And the accidents have come at a time when, people are supposed to be in a festive mood since its Christmas and New Year season. It is incumbent upon every Malawian to play a role in mitigating the challenges that these families are going through.
However, the affected woman’s question as to why God allowed the floods to cause havoc as they did, offers us a starting point as we interrogate the issue with an aim of coming up with possible solutions to this perennial menace.
We all know and agree that climate change has brought about a number of problems that include flash floods.
Rightly so, entrepreneurs call these disasters “acts of God”.
This term implies that the accidents are beyond human control. But should the country and its citizens really resign to fate and attribute these accidents to God?
First, rising population exerts pressure on people to join the rat-race in ensuring their survival and progress. In this rat-race, ethics are sometimes suspended as people ensure the best for themselves within the scarce resources. People are moving from rural areas to towns in search of employment and other opportunities such as education. This urbanization forces people who do not have the basic requirements to cling on to urban settings.
These are some of the people who pluck off planks from foot bridges and road signs to make firewood and kitchen utensils.
But such people need a roof over their heads. They quickly put up shacks made of adobe bricks and thatched with grass or pieces of tins salvaged from industrial wastes. They cannot afford a proper residential plot and end up building along streams and rivers as well as at the foot of hills and mountains.
These are natural pathways for disasters such as flash floods. This is why we need to revive the rural growth centres which the founding father of the nation, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, initiated and the late Bingu wa Mutharika attempted to rework. This will help ease population pressure on towns.
Their plight is made worse by the affluent who are busy putting up concrete jungles in towns and cities. Our construction systems are not eco-friendly. We cut down trees indiscriminately and destroy the eco-system. The new buildings are surrounded by concrete slabs with no or few trees and shrubs.
The concrete slabs do not allow rain water to sink into the ground. As a result, we “export” all our waters down to Mozambique through the Shire-Zambezi waterway. This also partly explains the inadequate power supply as our water table is not properly replenished. The water does not just rush down to Zambezi without leaving us painful scars in the name of the destruction that we are talking about.
Going forward, the city fathers should follow the law when allocating residential plots. It makes no sense to allow residents to build in disaster prone areas. Public officers must be made to account for the chaotic allocation of residential plots in our urban areas. City and town council rangers must also explain the mushrooming of construction projects in undesignated areas.
Utility companies such as Escom and water boards should not be left scot free. They are so money hungry to the point of connecting these settlers as if they face any competition at all.
These companies are wasting tax-payers money because sooner or later, power or water lines get destroyed in “natural” disasters.
Government must revisit the pricing structure of cement.
Cement should be affordable so that Malawians can use mortar or cement blocks in their projects. Government must also ban the use of burnt bricks, especially for big projects. People should be encouraged to use cement or stabilized soil blocks to put up their structures.
Laws must encourage preservation of indigenous vegetation around big projects which can be blended with exotic plants to add beauty to the environment. The natural vegetation works well with our type of soils in arresting floods.
While we acknowledge the effects that climate change has on natural disasters, we can avoid the accidents or mitigate their impact if we properly plan our settlements.