IMPACT STORY: How an SFA Webinar influenced the curricula of an educational institution in Malawi

By Dora Nyirenda, Research Administration, Malawi Hub

Edited by: Alex Maxwell, PGR, UK

During the COVID-19 pandemic, while most people were locked in their homes, the internet helped SFA continue to connect The SFA Malawi Hub was privileged to host a webinar with Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil on Ecosystem Based Disaster Risk Reduction at the end of April, 2020. The Director of Mzimba Christian Vocational School (MCVS) – a faith-based educational institution in Malawi which takes on ten students every year from across Malawi – and his staff, participated in the webinar which aimed at educating, informing and sharing knowledge on Ecosystem Disaster Risk Reduction. As an institution that tries to implement technology through applied research to develop solutions for the local context, the staff were able to learn examples of how ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction can be applied to disasters.  

The webinar was a knowledge sharing session, but could prove to have a deeper and longer-lasting impact for Malawi more generally, with the MCVS staff inspired to change their curricula to include thtopic. The curriculum developed through the webinar aims to tackle disasters such as floods, droughts, strong winds, and land-slidesLorent Mvulathe Director of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Management of MCVS explains on how this is useful for the future of Malawians, Using the Ecosystem Based Disaster Risk Reduction information in the curriculum can help reduce vulnerability in exposed communities’It is believed that including ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (EBDRR) in the curriculum will inform people and communities on the means to saving lives and peoples’ properties through critically thinking about the different ways to tackle everyday challenges. 

Staff believe the course will help students to understand the symbiotic interdependence between variables within the ecosystem which will then mitigate communities from destroying the local ecosystems. The knowledge gained can then be disseminated countrywide and support ecosystems across Malawi. There are additional requirements for the new curriculum to be successful, from teaching materials to building instructors capacities but it is believed that with this support, communities across Malawi will be better equipped and more resilient to dealing with the damaging effects from natural disasters.  

*Post based on an interview with Mzimba Christian Vocational School Director and Staff (Interviewer: Dora Nyirenda) 


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Mbabane Flash Floods; a Time to Ponder and Act

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director, Eswatini and Malawi Hub

On 6th of February 2020, Mbabane residents in the Kingdom of Eswatini experienced unprecedented flash floods which wreaked havoc in the city, flooding the Plaza, The New Mall and the Industrial Area. It was a storm accompanied by lightning, thunder, hail, strong winds and heavy rainfall in a short period of a few hours. Some say that a similar incident occurred in 2005, others say they never saw anything like this in their lives. Was the incident on 6th February a cloud burst? The Cambridge Dictionary describes a “cloud burst” as a heavy fall of rain that begins and ends suddenly, often accompanied by thunder and lightning. Whether it was a cloud burst or not may need verification from the Department of Meteorology. However, no verification is needed  to state that the rainfall/storm/cloudburst brought the city of Mbabane to a halt.

The New Mall car park, which experienced flash flooding on 6 February 2020 – Mbabane, Eswatini

Streams overflowed, leading to roads, car parks and shops being flooded (in some areas up to knee height).  Several cars were affected, possibly damaged beyond repair. A lot of water runoff from the highway also went into the streams in Mbabane city, further contributing to the overflows and flooding. Supermarkets and shops incurred losses when their merchandise got wet/soaked. It is not clear how much the damage from these flash floods cost or how many shops were insured. In addition to businesses getting flooded, the electricity supply in the city was affected. Trees fell and several electric poles snapped or fell, requiring the Eswatini Electricity Company to work all night to restore power to the affected residents of Mbabane.

Such events make one ponder the big global challenge of our times, Climate Change. With Climate change, such heavy downpours are expected to increase in frequency. According to scientists, southern Africa may experience a mean annual temperature rise. Although mean annual rainfall in the region as a whole will decline, an increase in the intensity of high-rainfall events is projected to occur. Rising air and sea surface temperatures have the potential to lead to more frequent and intense tropical storms in the southern Indian Ocean, and can contribute to more frequent droughts.  These trends are going to affect almost all sectors, including public infrastructure and the private sector.

The heavy downpour of 6th February brings to light how infrastructure planning and the construction of commercial buildings can increase vulnerability to flooding. It is time to ask some important questions. Are the highways and roads which divert storm water to streams into the city actually contributing to flash flooding? Are shops and buildings built on low lying areas, including wetlands, a factor contributing to the increasing risk of flooding? Perhaps this is an opportune time to plan interventions to reduce the risk of such climate and weather shocks. We need to consider issues such as climate proofing infrastructure, disaster risk financing, and insurance to minimize vulnerability.

Coincidentally, during the week of the heavy rainfall event, the National Disaster Management Agency was holding a multi-stakeholder workshop at Mbabane. The purpose of the workshop was to provide training in disaster risk financing and how to create a drought risk monitor and management plan, learning from the 2015/16 El Niño induced drought. This is a welcome initiative given that disaster risk reduction and increasing preparedness and mitigation capacity is urgently needed, particularly in the context of rapid urbanization and the accompanying high hazards to which urban populations and their assets are exposed. The nation is also undertaking a National Adaptation Process, where risk reduction for such flash floods may need to be prioritized.

Short Video of the flash flooding on 6 February 2020 – Mbabane, Eswatini

Mbabane city was able to bounce back after this heavy rainfall event. Shops were cleaned up and opened the very next day.  Fallen trees were removed and electricity restored to residents within hours. But the question remains: how many flooding events can we afford in a year? With climate change, we know that the severity and intensity of droughts and floods are expected to increase in future. This calls for greater engagement with the private sector to ensure their participation in climate change adaptation efforts and Disaster Risk Reduction. Additionally, this incident has brought to light the need to integrate green (ecological), grey (built-environment) and blue (water) infrastructure. There is a compelling business case for the private sector to invest in these measures, because the alternative of bearing the costs of the recurring adverse impacts of floods and droughts may be too high for their business operations. There is no time to lose. We do not want future disasters to affect us, and to watch our future slip through our fingers, just like water.