Strengthening Disaster Risk Management in Malawi

March 17, 2019
Challenge Malawi is prone to climate-related disasters, especially droughts and floods, leading to loss of lives, property and livelihoods. The 2015 floods devastated the country and its people. Around 230,000 were displaced, 106 died and 172 were reported missing. Exacerbated by a weak early warning system, when disasters hit, people often sought emergency shelters in public buildings such as schools and mosques. However, some of the shelter locations were unsafe, often leading to disease outbreaks and sexual exploitation and abuse. The frequency and severity of extreme weather events in Malawi and the absence of designated safe evacuation sites increased the need to implement disaster risk reduction schemes that can strengthen local resilience. Towards a Solution In 2016, China, UNDP and the Government of Malawi entered into an agreement to implement a small grants scheme on disaster risk reduction in Malawi to strengthen resilience and provide local people with safe havens in times of disasters. After a competitive process, the scheme selected five community-based organizations and one civil protection committee to implement micro-projects focused on building evacuation facilities and flood risk management structures (river bank protection, dikes and check dams) in five of Malawi’s 15 disaster-prone districts (SDGs 1, 9, 11 and 13). The scheme adopted a community-based approach to support projects that were designed, implemented and managed by local communities. Capacity-building and full participation from community members are critical components of the approach, ensuring local ownership and long-term viability of the projects. Training and workshops on proposal development, project management, financial management, procurement, monitoring and evaluation were provided to 27 community members from the five community-based organizations and one civil protection committee that were responsible for developing proposals, identifying sites for implementation and actually implementing the projects. These soft skills will help communities to apply for and manage grants in the future. Additionally, local communities volunteered in various construction activities and have acquired a variety of skills. For example, community members learned to build gabion baskets, which is a very marketable skill in the construction industry. The trilateral cooperation constructed four evacuation centres, a dike and riverbank protection for a flooding hotspot covering 570 metres, and two check dams to control floods. Each evacuation centre accommodates 200 – 300 people and has separate rooms for men and women. A storage room is also fully stocked with food, water buckets, kitchen utensils and educational materials that provide information on emergency response and recovery. Furthermore, the evacuation centres have separate indoor kitchens located close to the main building to ensure easy access. Solar panels are installed on the roofs to power all the rooms and outside areas; this is an efficient and renewable solution to meet the centres’ energy needs during disasters. In total, the projects directly benefited more than 23,000 people. The project’s innovation lies in its community-based approach and multifaceted design of the evacuation centres that benefited community members through many channels. The construction of evacuation centres involved local contractors who enlisted members of local communities. This increased the skills of community members, who also received financial benefits from the project as the money was returned to the community. Although the main function of the evacuation centres is to provide shelter for displaced individuals and families in the event of disaster, many amenities inside the centres helped to improve local residents’daily lives. The solar power can be used both for students who study in the evening and to charge mobile phones, as many areas do not have access to electricity. Boreholes at the evacuation centres have also provided portable water to nearby communities that lacked access to clean water. The projects’ long-lasting impacts and sustainability are achieved through the following:
  • Due to the technical nature of the projects, the District Council, the Department of Housing, Department of Buildings and the Department of Water Resources at the national and district levels were also involved to provide technical guidance in the design and implementation of the projects. The involvement of government technical departments provided opportunities to mainstream disaster risk management into these institutions’ development policies, plans, and practices;
  • All the community-based organizations developed sustainability plans that integrated entrepreneurial activities to maximize local usage of the evacuation centres and help to maintain the structures. Many of the centres were built in remote areas that lack access to basic services such as health and education. The centres enabled many interested stakeholders and agencies to provide additional development services to nearby communities. Interested partners participated in discussions regarding use of the sites for other development interventions to support local communities.
During the implementation period, the small grant scheme was identified as the model to implement the Disaster Risk Reduction National Master Plan and the scheme was replicated in 19 disaster-prone districts in Malawi. Additionally, replication depends on: 1) the institutional capacity of the local community-based organizations; 2) continuous support and guidance provided by government technical departments to ensure that problems are identified and addressed quickly; and, 3) community members developing a sense of ownership of the projects and willingly supporting and participating in all stages of the projects. Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 1.5, 9.a, 11.5, 11.7, 11.b, 11.c, 13.1 Countries/ territories involved: China, Malawi Supported by: China, UNDP Implementing entities: UNDP and Government of Malawi Project status: Completed Project period: 2016 – 2018 URL of the practice: Contact:
  • Ms. Sothini Nyirenda, UNDP Malawi, Sothini.nyirenda@
  • Ms. Yating Zhao, UNDP China, yating.zhao@undporg