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Spotlight on the Start Fund: Malawi Flood Response – Uniting to Secure People’s Rights

February 26, 2015

Posted by in Blog.

ActionAid is an international federation working to eradicate poverty, particularly for women and children.   ActionAid works with people living in poverty, who, due to injustices, inequalities and powerlessness, face challenges to live and sustain a life of dignity.  Emergencies aggravate the suffering that the poor living in poverty experience.  

Using 88,129GBP secured from the Start Fund, ActionAid Malawi and local partners launched a 45 day humanitarian response in January 2015. The response has supported approximately 45,000 people living in 15 camps to date, including approximately 1,000 lactating mothers, 300 pregnant women, and 5,000 children under five with food items (maize flour, beans, oil, salt, corn soya), and household and sanitary items (mosquito nets, bedding mats, blankets, water guard, soap, kitchen utensils and washing basins).  Twelve camp monitors were also recruited and deployed to camps to work with committees to regulate the camps, monitor the distribution of supplies and raise any protection issues.  ActionAid Malawi was assigned nine camps to manage. 

In early January 2015, Malawi experienced one of the most devastating emergency situations in the country’s history.  Incessant rains caused floods, which affected 15 of the country’s 28 districts.  Nsanje district in the southern tip of the country and along the shire river basin was the most affected, with over 80,000 people displaced and some 153 lives lost.

ActionAid Malawi successfully secured funding from the Start Fund to launch an immediate humanitarian response distributing food and NFIs, shelter, and disseminating informing to women, girls and children on how to protect themselves from violence and abuse in the camps and where to go for help if needed.


Civil Protection Committee members played a crucial role in saving people’s lives


Coordinating the response

Following the floods, the State President declared  a State of  Disaster  in the affected areas  on 13th January  2015, and on 21st January,  a preliminary  response plan  was presented to the office  of the Vice President, seeking  $81 million to address the immediate needs.  In response, the government, faith based organizations and NGOs including ActionAid, World Food Programme, Save the Children, Christian Aid, Goal Malawi, the Red Cross, Word Vision International, UNFP, and UNICEF united to coordinate the response to meet the immediate needs of the flood affected communities.   Local leaders, community level committees responsible for disaster management and the flood survivors themselves played active roles in ensuring a smooth and well-informed response process, through cooperating with all actors in providing the required information on number of families and people affected.

Trained local committees crucial in needs assessments and information management 

Immediately after the floods, the Area Civil Protection Committees (ACPCs) and Village Civil Protection Committees (VCPCs) carried out preliminary assessments on the extent of the damage and the number of people affected.  (ACPs and VCPs are government formed local level institutions, at Traditional Authority (TA) and Group Village Headman (GVH) levels and are responsible for and lead in the management of emergencies, including preparedness, risk reduction, response and recovery).   ActionAid regularly works with the ACPCs and VCPCs as key entry points on emergency issues.  In 2014, ActionAid worked with government to reorganize 2 ACPCs and 13 VCPCs to ensure a 50:50 representation of men and women. Some of the women in these committees also serve  in leadership roles.    Before the onset of the 2014/15 rainy season, ActionAid trained the VCPCs and ACPCs in women’s rights and how to conduct rapid assessments focusing on women’s rights. They were also trained in emergency rescue and provided with sets of rescue materials including solar lamps, life jackets, first aid kits, gumboots, megaphones and whistles. Following the floods, the VCPCs and ACPCs were ActionAid’s main points of contact in the affected areas, as they were trained to respond and were already in the flood affected areas.  Through  use of mobile phones (calls and texts) the VCPCs and ACPCs raised the initial flood warnings in their respective areas to the District Civil Protection Committee (DCPC-The DCPC comprises of members from government departments and all NGOs working in Nsanje, including ActionAid and other Start Fund agencies).  They also carried out initial rapid assessments on the extent of the damage, including number of families affected, within 48 hours of the floods the information was transmitted to the DCPC and all other organizations involved in the response.  The information which the VCPCs provided formed a basis for further investigations on our part and other organizations.


The Camp Committee being briefed on their roles

Further assessments

A District Assessment Team was then established to verify the information with VCPCs and ACPCs and determine the priority needs. This included members from the district government and all NGOs responding to the emergency including ActionAid and other Start Fund agencies.   In this joint verification and needs assessment exercise, people affected by the floods, members of Community Based Organisations (CBOs), and local leaders were the key informants.  This ensured that any support provided to the people was needs-based.  The district assessment team comprised of 30% women who conducted interviews with different groups of people, including women.  A deliberate move was also made to hold discussions with women- only groups, to assess specific issues affecting women and their needs.

Cluster meetings 

A total of six clusters (WASH, Agriculture and Food Security, Shelter, Protection, Recovery, and Education) were established at the district level.  ActionAid is a member of the following clusters; (Health and HIV and AIDS, Agriculture and Food Security, Education, Protection, and Shelter), and at these meetings NGOs based in the district are able to exchange information with other organizations and local partners.  In the cluster meetings all response activities are consolidated, gaps are identified and members are assigned to different locations or camps to address emerging issues, based on their specific capacity/capability.

Coordinating the response

All organizations involved in response activities are required to participate in district level coordination meetings three times a week, where clusters take the lead in providing updates to the district level coordination team on issues relating to their sector.  The meetings have ensured that all stakeholders have the same information on the flood situation, including challenges and gaps, and that roles are properly assigned based on areas of expertise.  More importantly, the district coordination meetings have ensured that support to camps and affected people is fairly distributed and that cases of duplication of tasks are avoided.  For example while ActionAid has mainly focused its food and NFIs distribution in the Northern and Eastern parts of the district, Concern Worldwide  focuses  on the Southern part.  While ActionAid’s protection activities focuses on women’s rights and violence/abuse for women in all the camps, Save the Children focuses  its activities on children through the establishment of Children’s Corners, registration of unaccompanied children and conducting psycho-social counselling to children.

Camp Management 

There are 19 camps across Nsanje district, and a number of organizations are involved in managing them, including ActionAid, Concern, Goal Malawi, The Red Cross and the government.  ActionAid is responsible for managing nine of the 19 camps:  Bangula Full Primary (F.P) school, Phokela F.P school, Mlonda F.P school, Makhanga F.P school, Chigwamafumu F.P school, Fatima, Chikali F.P school and Osiyana camp, located in the Northern and Eastern parts of the district, while Concern Worldwide is responsible for camps in the Southern part of the district such as Khulubvi, Bitilinyu and Nyachilenda.   The camps were assigned to the organizations based on their areas of operation, and where they have constant engagement with community members. Each camp has a Camp Management Committee made up of representatives (one or two) from the villages that have been affected and are staying in the camp.  These Camp Management Committees are supported by the VCPs and ACPCs to oversee operations in the camps.

Women are represented in all camp management committees, (average of 40%) and they effectively participate in decision- making processes in the camps as well as in the whole disaster management process.   Camp monitors and camp management committees are the key entry points in the camps.  Any visitor to the camps must first go through the camp monitors/managers and the camp management committee, who are able to provide the information on any issues pertaining to the camp., e.g. ActionAid staff visiting or distributing supplies to a camp managed by Concern Worldwide are required to go through their camp monitor before undertaking any activities at the camp.  The camp monitors and the camp management committees are responsible for receiving and distributing any supplies that come to the centre to ensure fairness and equality.  This ensures that affected people participate effectively in decision making processes, on issues that affect them, including type of supplies, gaps, amount of rations and time of distribution.


Challenges with coordinated approach 

Some organizations insist on supporting preferred camps, based on their areas of operation, and prefer to distribute on their own, without going through the committees in the camps.  This is affecting distribution and other supplies, resulting in some camps having more food than others.
Inadequate capacity among members of the camp management committee and community members to track food and other supplies, giving room to corrupt practices in the camps.

Government agencies at the district level are not taking leading roles in the management of the disaster, starting from the cluster level.
Lack of accountability downwards (to affected) by some organizations has reduced the mandate and powers of people to monitor response activities.  Some affected people are not aware about much food and NFIs have been provided how much has been distributed, how much supplies are remaining and how much supplies are yet to come.


Lucy Tsegula (left) and Gloria Davie of Kalonga VCPC sharing their stories on how they assisted the communities through early flood warnings


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