“There’s no harm
in hoping for the best
as long as you’re prepared
for the worst”
The Cabinet should have been in the cauldron this week but there was really no reshuffle to write home about. A few ministers swapping desks here and there and that was about it.
Of course, I would have expected a few UDF cadres to be drafted in to make its loose coalition with the DPP seem more political than personal. But that is subject for another day.
Suffice to say that the shifting of Atupele Muluzi to Home Affairs is quite poignant. Remember the young man had an unpleasant nocturnal visit the other day. May be he is the right guy for the job for he knows what it means to be imprisoned in the fortress of one’s own abode.
But, like I said, nothing significant in the reshuffle. Let us, therefore, discuss more important national serious.
Around September last year global weather experts predicted that El Niño would hit Southern Africa. The weather phenomenon is associated with extreme weather conditions, meaning that the region would inevitably receive either too much or too little rainfall. Either scenario is disastrous in their own unique forms.
This should have jolted government into action. Authorities should have hankered down with various stakeholders to plan for the inevitable for too much rainfall automatically means heavy flooding while too little of the heavenly liquid means drought. The common denominator for both scenarios is famine.
Therefore, September was just about enough time for serious technocrats to plan to avert or mitigate the inevitable impact of El Niño.
But, for some reasons, we never seemed bothered at all. For us it was business as usual. To boot, the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, which is supposed to guide us on weather patterns, announced that Malawi would experience normal rainfall for the 2014-2015 rainy season. Even when the onset of the rains delayed our weather gurus still maintained the country should expect normal rains.
Maybe our weathermen and women were only trying to be politically correct. You see, every ruling elite abhors any spectre of bad tidings while those in opposition always want to drum up the same for their own selfish ends.
But, while we were procrastinating, when they were finally upon us in early January the rains came with a vengeance, rainstorms et al. No sooner had the rains came than heavy – in some cases flash – flooding followed, especially in the southern region. Houses, livestock, crop fields, roads, bridges, you name it, were washed away by floods. Nearly 200 human lives were also lost in the wake of the flooding.
Nobody could have prevented the heavy flooding, of course. But if we had heeded the warning signs we could have put together mechanisms to reduce the impact of the floods. Declaring half the country ‘disaster areas’, though important, was like closing the proverbial stable door after the horsehas already bolted.
We, as a nation, should know that planning works miracles most of the times. Look, what could have happened to the future of the world as we know it now had Noah of old not properly planned when he was duly warned? During his time, Noah was warned of great floods. He responded by building an ark. He ended up saving enough human beings, flora and fauna for posterity.
But, like others in Noah’s time, some Malawian officials thought the predicted heavy rains following the El Niño weather phenomenon would only mean abundant harvests!
In ancient Egypt, too, we are told Joseph, son of Jacob, had prophesised a seven-year period of great abundance and another seven-year period of great famine. The Egyptians planned for the impending famine by storing enough from the period of plenty for the predicted period of nothing.
But this was thousands of years ago. One would think in these modern times we could do much better.
But it appears we are averse to learning anything from the past. Look, some folks were prevented from even planting crops because the floods hit before they could even plant. Those who had planted had their crops completely destroyed.
That was not all. When the little maize crop that survived was about to tassel, rains abruptly stopped and most of the maize crop wilted.
Government says at least 40 percent of the harvest would be lost. But I think that is a conservative estimate. I guess we are looking at upwards of 60 percent of harvest lost.
But whether the loss is 40 or 60 percent, it is huge and its effects will likely affect all aspects of the economy and, therefore, life in general would also be badly hit.
Inevitably, this will spill over to the 2015-2016 growing season because most farming families will be too pre-occupied with survival tactics to prepare fully for the next harvest.
Without being alarmist, we could be looking in the face of a famine of the historical 1949 scale.
With people starving, so will the economy already reeling under unfavourable conditions due to the donor squeeze. The inevitable massive inflation will have a domino effect in the construction and services industries, for example.
If not properly handled all these may lead to social unrest which may graduate into political instability of the 2011-2012 proportions.
But it is not too late to salvage the situation. Government and its Department of Disaster and Risk Management should not disengage its ‘disaster mode’ gear. April, May and June will have a semblance of normalcy for people will be subsisting from the little harvest they would have salvaged and may be able to buy extra food with the little money they would have made from some cash crops that may have survived the bad weather.
But these three or so months will be just the proverbial ‘calm before the storm’. So President Mutharika should not recall Saulos Chilima from the battle front, as it were. The Vice President should continue coordinating government recovery efforts and use these months for frantic planning and resource mobilisation.
Government should take advantage of these months to move maize from the national silos at Kanengo to strategic corners of the country. It does not make sense for people of Chilumba in Karonga or Mua in Dedza or Bereu in Chikwawa to be starving while maize is rotting in the national silos.
After all why did we construct those other silos for?
Government should not tolerate the nonsense of letting the all-important maize rot in the national silos. Donors like the World Food Programme may not be moved to mobilise more maize if the national silos are still full of stock.
The success of any country depends on how it responds to man-made or natural disasters. Look at how The Netherlands made dykes to reclaim its flood-prone low-lands. Look at how Germany used the Marshall Plan to rebuild after the devastating Second World War. Closer home, Mozambique and Rwanda are shinning examples of how not to resign to fate after man-made disasters.
It is high time we stopped being a reactive country; let us be pro-active. We should not just be responding to disasters; we should be preparing for them.
And we have plenty to learn from. As they say, history is there for us to know the past, understand the present and interpret the future.