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Lessons Learned: From Resilience Programming in Malawi & Zimbabwe

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Understanding resilience

The topic of resilience has become a study catchall for a variety of approaches involving sectors such as Food Security, Livelihoods, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) among many others. The general goal of resilience is to increase capacity of individuals and communities to recover from and improve their conditions relating to shocks and stresses they face. Fostering learning around the topic of resilience presents a challenge for communities, governments, NGOs and other actors. In order to truly see if communities’ conditions are improving, learning cannot be captured until another shock or stress occurs in the target communities where resilience building activities took place. When disasters do occur in resilience programme areas, it is imperative to follow up with target communities to see how communities and overall conditions have been impacted in a negative or positive way. With this background in mind, Trócaire and implementing partners conducted a qualitative study in Malawi and Zimbabwe following the El Niño induced drought (Zimbabwe) and Cyclone Idai (Malawi and Zimbabwe). Two extensive learning papers were developed from this study: Building Resilience and Shaping the Future: Malawi and Striving for Resilience: Zimbabwe. This document summarizes the overall findings and reflects on general trends involving Trócaire’s resilience programming.

Storms and floods in southern Malawi

Starting in January 2019, Malawi experienced a series of heavy rains and subsequent floods which inundated large areas including Blantyre, Chikwawa and Nsanje Districts. By the time that Cyclone Idai made landfall in March 2019, many communities were already facing displacement due to the flooding. Cyclone Idai exacerbated this problem and brought it to other areas in the southern part of the country including Zomba and Machinga. Communities which participate in Trócaire’s resilience programming (located in Chikwawa District) were impacted by the flood and storm events as many people in the communities were displaced, lost assets and in some cases suffered injury and loss of life.

Threefold challenges in Zimbabwe

In 2019, Zimbabwe faced a series of natural disasters (drought and Cyclone Idai), which, when put against the backdrop of the ongoing economic crisis increased vulnerability in many communities. The economic crisis resulted in a rising inflation rate as of April 2019, which significantly damaged overall consumer spending power. High import demand, especially for food items such as maize meal and the importing of electricity further aggravated the situation. The El Niño induced drought began in November 2018 and has resulted in less than 50% of average annual maize production and a depletion of the national grain reserve. The 2019 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee estimated that 5 million people in the rural areas are food insecure. Of this population, further analysis estimates that over 3.5 million people (roughly 38 % of the rural population) need urgent humanitarian action between October to December 2019. While Zimbabwe did not have the overall death toll or number of people displaced as Mozambique, Cyclone Idai did impact the eastern part of the country; the provinces of Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands and Mashonaland East all experienced heavy wind, rains, flooding and landslides. 270,000 people were affected and over 50,000 were displaced. Homes and household items were both washed away and destroyed. In addition, the agriculture sector, which makes up most of the economy in the four provinces felt significant damage: with numerous damages to crops, livestock and agricultural infrastructure. While Trócaire’s resilience programming in Matabeleland South and Masvingo Provinces were more designed to build vulnerable communities’ capacity toward drought, there were interesting conclusions and unforeseen benefits which came out of the experience with Cyclone Idai (for Masvingo Province) as well.