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Building Resilience and Shaping the Future: Lessons Learned from the Experiences of Cyclone Idai in Southern Malawi

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Executive Summary

Achieving positive impact while working in the field of resilience is a challenge faced by practitioners across the globe. While resilience aims to improve the ways that individuals, households, communities, civil society and institutions within a system have increased their ability to prepare for, withstand and recover from adversity, shocks and stresses (such as floods, storms, food insecurity and economic instability); we cannot always determine when and where these impacts will occur. Therefore, when natural or manmade hazards do occur in areas where resilience activities take place, it is imperative to follow up with vulnerable communities to improve learning about the experience.

Following the severe flooding (January and February 2019) and the devastation of Cyclone Idai (March 2019) which affected southern Malawi, Trócaire undertook a study in August 2019 to gain greater insight on the impact their resilience work in select communities of Chikwawa District. The study does not present the full story of what occurred throughout the southern part of the country, but it does highlight some lessons learned along with providing recommendations to improve resilience programming in the future. The lessons learned from this paper are described in greater detail throughout the work, with major findings highlighted below:

There is a consensus that Trócaire Resilience Programming contributes to strengthened household and community capacity to build resilience. This was determined by comparing the impact on communities with many of the same characteristics who were not part of the programme. Community members in Trócaire programme areas understand the relationship between natural resource management and Disaster Risk Reduction, specifically by promoting tree planting and highlighting the importance of agroecology for long-term resilience. There is a need to bring in experienced humanitarian expertise when working with communities on preparedness (not only during humanitarian responses). Similarly, other partners, not only traditional humanitarian actors should be involved in the response (including those working in women’s empowerment, governance and livelihoods).

Many of the most positive resilience strategies highlighted by communities in the study area occurred prior to the flood/cyclone events. Longer term planning and implementation of activities such as relocation to higher ground, tree planting and crop diversification require inputs long before the rainy season to ensure adequate preparedness. Current and future programming should take this into consideration during programme design.

Related to the previous point, the need for longer term interventions to mitigate the impact of flooding, goes against the current system in place by government and many NGOs whose primary focus is on flood response. Therefore, in addition to longer term, community level preparedness and mitigation activities, there is a need to advocate for government interventions to address hazards before they occur. This includes working on issues of land access in many of the flood prone and upland areas of southern Malawi.