Press releases

ShelterBox responding after people’s homes submerged by floodwater in Malawi

ShelterBox is responding to flooding in Malawi, where more than 12,000 people remain displaced.

9 April 2024

People sitting on the ground in Malawi

Press release – 5 April

An emergency response team from the UK charity ShelterBox is to begin distributing emergency shelter aid in Malawi after homes were damaged and washed away by severe flooding caused by heavy rainfall over the last month. The organisation is warning that more than 12,000 people remain displaced across central Malawi, with many homes still submerged by flood waters following heavy rains.

A relentless cycle of flooding, cyclones, and droughts is devastating communities in the landlocked nation. Following the floods, areas of the country in southeastern Africa are now facing drought, caused by El Nino, with Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera declaring a state of disaster in 23 districts. To make matters worse, people haven’t had time to recover from Cyclone Freddy in 2023, Cyclone Idai in 2019, or a series of floods over the past 10 years.

Aid pre-positioned

ShelterBox has experience working with people affected by disaster in Malawi, having responded several times since 2015. With aid items pre-positioned in Blantyre in the south of the country following Cyclone Freddy in 2023, a ShelterBox response team has been working with local people and CARE Malawi to move the aid to a warehouse in central Malawi. Together they will distribute tarpaulins, tools, water filters, solar lights, and other essential items in the coming days.

ShelterBox response team lead, Martin Strutton says: “Where the flood water is starting to recede, it’s revealing the true scale of damage to homes and belongings that many people don’t have the resources to repair or replace.

“Having aid already stored in a warehouse following Cyclone Freddy is allowing us to respond relatively quickly with tarpaulins, groundsheets, and tools, so that people can start making their damaged homes watertight.”

Families still living in camps following Cyclone Freddy

The flooding happened during the day when many people were at work, so many families were separated. As well as houses, roads, bridges, and crops have been destroyed making it harder for people to access food, water, and shelter.

Flooding affects Malawi time again, and often people don’t have time to recover before the next heavy rains arrive. While some people are now living in schools and other community buildings or with host families, thousands more seek refuge in displacement camps. There are still families living in camps following Cyclone Freddy in 2023 and there is a shortage of tents, tarpaulins, and household items.

The distributions will support thousands of people in Nkhotakota district who are unable to return home. Essential items like water filters and carriers, and kitchen sets, will mean people can store clean water and cook for their families. Solar lights will provide light after dark, and high thermal blankets and sleeping mats will make for more comfortable nights.

With local organisations, ShelterBox will also provide training on ways to use the tools and tarpaulins that will ensure homes remain watertight for longer.

Addressing ‘loss and damage’

Recovering nations and communities that have contributed the least to the climate crisis have been facing the brunt of devastating floods, drought, and sea level rise. Extreme weather events continue to hammer the country, despite the average Malawi citizen emitting just 0.1 tonnes of carbon a year compared to 4.6 per person in the UK as of 2020.

Martin adds: “Floods, storms, and droughts are getting worse, hitting the same places more often, and lasting longer. People often don’t have time to recover from one emergency before the next takes its toll.

“That’s why our focus is supporting flood affected communities to return home, avoiding people from living out in the open in unplanned camps.

“People are losing their homes, as well as their crops and livelihoods because of flooding and drought. We’re also working with our partners, government agencies, the Malawian Red Cross Society, and Rotary to find ways to mitigate the impact of future floods.

With world leaders failing to invest in recovery, preparation, and rebuilding, disasters continue to follow extreme weather. At COP28, leaders agreed that they have a responsibility to address the disproportionate impact experienced by communities and countries made more vulnerable to the climate crisis. ShelterBox warns that addressing the issue of ‘loss and damage’ is crucial because fairness should be the foundation of climate solutions.

Andrew is ‘starting again’

On the day of the floods, 33-year-old Andrew escaped to higher ground with others as the water rose. It wasn’t until the water levels subsided four days later that they were able to see the damage to the surrounding houses, businesses, and church.

He says: “We didn’t see the damage at first, we could only see water. Like what happened in 2019, because this isn’t the first time, it happened in 2019 when the water came from this river, but it was not as huge as this year, this is the biggest I’ve ever seen.

“It’s not a surprise for someone who was here for this flood, it has been happening because we didn’t have a solution, of what to do for this not to happen.

Like many others, Andrew’s livelihood has been badly affected. He is a mechanic and the walls around his garage have been washed away.

He says: “I built it in 2018, in just five years, I have lost everything. As I am speaking now, I don’t have anything that I have invested, I am starting again. Which is a big problem to me, I’m growing but my investment has gone. It’s not only me, but a lot of people are also the same.

“For me, I had 11 guys, who I was paying every month, I was supporting the government with job opportunities. But as of now I have lost them, they are here, but cannot work because my garage has gone. What we need is help, to make sure this problem does not happen again.

As well as Malawi, ShelterBox is supporting people displaced by drought in Somalia as well as conflict around the world, including in Gaza, Yemen, Syria, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique. Since 2000, the charity has supported more than 2.5 million people across the world with different combinations of emergency shelter aid.

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For more information contact the press office at ShelterBox via [email protected].


Notes to Editors

  • B-roll and images of ShelterBox’s ongoing work in Malawi.
  • Interviews available with Martin Strutton in Malawi on Saturday, Monday, or Friday PM.

About ShelterBox

ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and other essential items to families who have lost their homes to disasters. With operational headquarters in Cornwall, the charity also has 13 affiliate organisations worldwide.

The charity has been Rotary International’s project partner in disaster relief since 2012. ShelterBox has supported more than 2.5 million people since it was founded in 2000.