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In the southern tip of Malawi, severe flooding has left at least 20,000 people stranded without food, clean water and medical supplies for more than 10 days.
Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was the first of a few aid organisations operating in the area, but flooded roads, strong currents and floating debris has made accessing many areas impossible.
“The country had not seen floods of this magnitude for approximately 50 years,” says MSF Head of Mission, Amaury Grégoire.
“People have lost everything, and as most people in the area rely on agriculture, the effect will probably be felt for a while as their crops have been destroyed by the floods. So food is clearly a primary concern. Healthcare needs are also very serious.”
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MSF’s emergency teams are operating in two of the worst affected areas; Trinity and Makhanga. At the mobile clinic in Makhanga, a third of children under the age of five who consulted with MSF doctors were suffering from diarrhoea.
“That is a potentially severe condition which is indicative of a lack of clean water,” Grégoire says.
Three teams are distributing mosquito nets, tents, clean water kits and are building latrines for those who have been displaced. MSF is also monitoring levels of water borne diseases and malaria, which is endemic in the region.
Many people have found refuge on ‘islands’ – areas of higher ground that have not been submerged in the floods.
“Makhanga is presently an ‘island’ where 5,000 people have found refuge, and is still completely surrounded by water,” says Grégoire.
“People have been living in very precarious conditions. We have little information of the other four such “islands” that have received little help apart from some food sent by helicopters.”
MSF has been working in Malawi since 1986, and runs a regular HIV project in the affected area. Forty staff have been deployed as part of the flood response, with more staff and materials arriving in the coming days.