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Malawi Declares 14 Days of Mourning for Cyclone Victims

A child has her hands washed at a displacement center in Blantyre, southern Malawi March 16, 2023.
A child has her hands washed at a displacement center in Blantyre, southern Malawi March 16, 2023.

Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has declared two weeks of national mourning for the more than 200 people killed by Cyclone Freddy this week. In a televised address Wednesday night, Chakwera also ordered all flags to fly at half-staff for the first week. Chakwera announced he would head efforts to assist Malawians affected by the record storm.

Chakwera said the decision to declare a 14-day period of mourning came after he witnessed the scale of devastation from the cyclone — one of the longest-lasting tropical storms on record — and the agony victims went through to save their lives.

He asked Malawians not to lose hope.

“Even so, we cannot afford to mourn while being passive,” he said. “Ours must be an active mourning accompanied by action. Our immediate action, which I am here for in the southern region to coordinate, will be focused on four objectives. One, the actions that I am now coordinating from here are to ensure that all those we have lost are given a proper and dignified burial. And all those that are missing are accounted for.”

Chakwera also said he will make sure that all those who are stranded and trapped are brought to safety.

Additionally, he announced that at an emergency Cabinet meeting he held Wednesday evening, officials authorized the release of about $1.6 million to assist the thousands of Malawians who were badly affected by the storm.

Chakwera, however, noted that money was not enough, and appealed for global support to assist the thousands of people now in evacuation camps.

Shorai Ng'ambi, a behavior change specialist for UNICEF, told VOA at the Naotcha evacuation camp in Blantyre on Thursday that the situation in the camps is challenging, especially for children.

“At all the camps that we have been to, the situation is really pathetic, because we have seen that a lot of people who are in the camps are children,” she said. “There are a lot of things that are lacking. For example, you talk of food, accommodation and bedding. We are also looking at issues of health, water and sanitation, nutrition.”

Ng’ambi, however, said the U.N. children’s agency was working to address some of those challenges.

“As you have seen, we are bringing in chlorine and buckets for people who are in the camp so that there is hygiene to contain cholera,” she said. “Also, we are assessing the health of the children in the camps. But we also want to make sure that there is continuity of education.”

The government has extended the closure of schools in the southern region until next week, following continued rains in the region.

Weather experts in Malawi say Cyclone Freddy has now gone and that the rains are due to an incoming weather front from Congo.