“Another year, another cyclone hits Malawi.
This was a big one. The damage is slowly being assessed, but many people have lost everything, yet again.
I want to reflect on last years’ storm as I think it may help people to understand how calamitous this is. In January 2022 we experienced Tropical Storm Ana. The storm destroyed much of the southern region, partly re-routing the main river and destroying much of the hydroelectric power plant which produces most of the electricity in Malawi.
In addition, lives were lost, houses and crops destroyed. Pretty much what you would expect from a cyclone. What came next was even more devastating in many ways.
Malawi being one of the poorest countries in the world, had to get out the begging bowl to try to finance repairs to the hydro system. At this point the entire country was experiencing load-shedding of between ten and twenty hours daily. This impacts businesses in particular, who already struggle to thrive in Malawi.
The World Bank eventually agreed to finance the repairs to the hydro system (a loan, not a gift, pushing malawi into more debt). However, they insisted on an overnight 25% devaluation. This has economically crippled Malawi, with the country experiencing massive inflation and a forex crisis.
Combine this with less food produced in the south, and you can see the impact.
Food prices are three to four times more expensive than a year ago. People are struggling to provide the basics and don’t have enough food to eat.
Few goods are coming in from other countries because no forex can leave the country. There’s been an almost constant fuel crisis, with the country experiencing severe shortages over extended periods of time. A litre of petrol is the same as a days wage. Imagine working for ten hours a day and being paid the equivalent of a litre of fuel.
Fertiliser, necessary to the majority of the population who are subsidence farmers, has quadrupled in price. Even with government subsidies, many couldn’t afford fertiliser or couldn’t get hold of the subsidised fertiliser, so their crops will probably not be as good this year.
The hydro is still not fixed, so the load-shedding continues, meaning businesses are stunted and two out of three evenings are spent in darkness at home because the power is off.
And now another cyclone. My heart is breaking for Malawi. People are so resilient, but everyone has a breaking pointThese are the long term realities of climate change, hitting the most vulnerable countries the hardest.
It’s just so utterly frustrating for Malawi that this has happened yet again. Just feels like the country makes a tiny step forward and then gets thrown back ten steps every time.”
By Imogen Feilding, Head of Stepping Stones in Mkondezi district of Nkhata Bay, Malawi.