How Malawi saved lives in Cyclone Idai

Source(s): The New Humanitarian

By Simon Allison


According to Steven, an even more important lesson – as far as humanitarian organisations were concerned – was the importance of listening to and cooperating with local communities; of working with them to gain their trust, and then responding to their identified needs. For him, this is a process that began years ago.

“I want to emphasise the part of involving the community,” said Steven, who is still with MSF. “It’s not good just to work through assumptions, to say maybe they are traumatised, they don’t have anything, they don’t have money, they are illiterate. We can easily then miss the truth of the best way to help them.”


Local leaders, thanks to their intimate knowledge of the area’s topography, were able to explain how the floodwaters would move, helping MSF to target its interventions.

It was also through these discussions – spearheaded by Steven – that MSF realised that local communities had already established emergency evacuation points, and so were able to direct mobile clinics to the areas with the greatest need. “Because of that, it was easier for us to help them [than in 2015]; it was faster,” said Steven.

While aid from external actors was better focused and made a difference, Steven believes the most effective response to Cyclone Idai came from within affected communities, whose members took extraordinary steps to minimise the scale of this year’s disaster.


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