Cyclone Freddy in Malawi: When every little thing counts to save women and girls’ lives


We watch anxiously as the white WFP humanitarian truck in front of us ploughs through a waterlogged dirt road. The truck is enroute to reach vulnerable and displaced communities in desperate need of relief supplies. The truck crosses a perilously looking makeshift wooden bridge and slippery terrain.

Finally, we arrive at Katuma camp situated 31 km away from Mulanje Town which is close to the Mozambique border. Mulanje district lies 67 km west of Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital.

In Mulanje district alone, 67,233 women and girls are seeking shelter in camps after their homes were wrecked.  At Katuma camp 456 women, men and children need relief items.. The camp comprises of a one room brick structure where 340 women and children are staying, while 116 men are cramped in a small, thatched structure.

Cyclone Freddy affected families gathering as they wait for assistance in Malawi. Photo: UN Women
Cyclone Freddy affected families gathering for assistance in Malawi. Photo: UN Women

As the truck contents begin to be offloaded, the line of people to receive items slowly begins to grow. The camp protection committee works swiftly with the district and UN Women staff to organize the camp community. There is a general sense of relief in the area as pregnant women start receiving emergency supplies.

Seven-months pregnant Rebeca Kabisala narrates her ordeal, “It rained non-stop for days, when one of the walls in my house collapsed, I ran out quickly-I lost everything. This blanket I have received will keep me warm in the overcrowded camp”.

As the hours pass by, rows of lactating mothers, adolescent girls, women, persons with disabilities, the elderly as well as boys of all ages and men approach the truck to receive items.

Edna Mishioni, 35,  smiles as she opens a bucket she has just received. “Managing menstrual hygiene has made me so anxious since we came here. Now, I don’t have to be ashamed and stressed because I have sanitary pads” she says.

Edna Mishioni receiving her support kit after displacement as a result of Cyclone Freddy. Photo: UN Women Malawi
Edna Mishioni receiving her support kit after displacement as a result of Cyclone Freddy. Photo: UN Women Malawi

Venika Mangwaya is led to the truck by her young grandson. “Seeing all this maize flour is a miracle, the children in the camp can eat more than one meal a day”.

A few kilometres away from Katuma camp, a church building has been turned into a camp. Forty-two-year-old Annie Makukenya excitedly switches on a solar lamp she has been given. “The building we are sleeping in is always dark, this lamp will make us feel safer and the children can read at night”.

Maria John, a local volunteer who works in ten camps in the area says humanitarian response must include and deliberately target women. “When disasters like these floods strike, organizations must respond to the unique needs of women and girls, we applaud UN Women for doing this” she says.

As the sun begins to set, the truck drives away having distributed to almost 500 households in four camps in traditional authority Mkanda in Mulanje.

Early March 2023, Malawi was hit by Tropical Cyclone Freddy that induced floods and mud slides in 15 districts in Southern region. As of 27th March 2023, approximately 2,267,458 people (1,110,639 males, 1,156,819 females and 234,729 people living with disability) have been affected. This is 11% of Malawi population estimated at 20,428,275. The number of displaced people is at 659,278 with 747 camps commissioned to accommodate the displaced. It is estimated that 65% of the displaced people are women. The death toll is at 679. The number of injured persons is at 2178. The number of reported missing persons is at 537. The torrential rains, mud slides and floods caused a lot of damage to infrastructure including houses, roads, household property, schools, health facilities and displaced many households. 

UN Women has donated relief items, including hygiene kits, blankets, wrappers, solar lamps and food worth US$30,000 to those affected by Cyclone Freddy.

“Every little thing counts and can save lives,” said Letty Chiwara,  UN Women Malawi Country Representative, officially handing over items to the Malawi Department of Disaster Management Affairs.