Radio stations in Malawi highlight impact of cyclone, help relief efforts

| April 17, 2023

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Tropical Cyclone Freddy devastated southern Africa in late February and early March, and caused great damage in Malawi, where incessant rains caused catastrophic floods. The cyclone had killed more than a thousand people in Malawi as of April 12. That number is likely to increase as search teams find bodies buried under mudslides. More than 660,000 people were displaced, 2.3 million people injured, and hundreds are still missing.

Cyclone Freddy washed away entire villages—people, livestock, and property, including houses. It damaged at least 200,000 hectares of crops, with many either submerged or washed away. Survivors have been left destitute, some residing in 577 camps, 426 of which are primary and secondary schools. The tragedy occurred when people in parts of southern Malawi were already facing food insecurity due to poor harvests and high prices for food, inputs, and fuel, with maize costing more than triple the five-year average price.

During this emergency period, various stakeholders have been assisting the government to respond to the emergency. Individuals, groups, companies, non-profits, and many others have donated and delivered food and non-food items to survivors in the camps. Radio stations are contributing to this effort in various ways, including calling on well-wishers to donate relief items, collecting donated items and taking them to camps, presenting daily programs highlighting what the government is doing to alleviate the suffering, informing the public of the status of search and rescue operations, and airing messages of hope and encouragement.

Zodiak is a private national broadcaster headquartered in Lilongwe. The station runs a regular program several times a day that mobilizes Malawians to donate whatever they can afford to survivors. Gabriel Kamlomo is the station’s head of programs. He explains that the station has correspondents in every district of the country and has invited well-wishers to donate items through these correspondents. In turn, the correspondents arrange to send the donated items to the station’s head office, thereby channeling all donations to the government’s arm for distributing relief items.

Mzati radio in Mulanje district broadcasts to at least five districts in the Southern region of Malawi, all devastated by the cyclone. According to the coordinator of relief programs at the radio station, Mercy Madzi, the station has decided to ask listeners for donations so that when Mzati reporters go to the camps to interview survivors and tell their stories, they can donate a few items to survivors.

Religious radio stations throughout the country are encouraging people to make donations through their local church. Some stations report live as they present donations to survivors.

Judith Sonkho, station manager at Radio Maria, says the station dedicates time to talk about how survivors can practice hygienic behaviours to prevent contracting diseases such as cholera, COVID-19, and other diseases that spread easily when people are in close contact, as in the camps.

At Kasungu Community Radio Station, program producer Shakira Davie noted that the radio station advises its listeners to avoid disinformation by relying only on updates from the Department of Meteorological Services and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, official outlets for government information.

Other radio stations have also set up special programs to discuss Cyclone Freddy and the needs of the survivors.

But stations are facing challenges such as blackouts, transportation problems, and delays in official information updates.

Nyanthepa Community Radio is one of the two most important community radio stations in Nsanje district. During Cyclone Freddy, water in a local river overtopped its banks and swallowed many structures in the district, including the station, taking it off the air. The silencing of Nyanthepa Community Radio is depriving communities in Nsanje of up-to-date information about the disaster, cholera, and other important information.  

Photo: Flood waters surrounding Nyanthepa Community Radio