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Photo: Richard Hanson/Tearfund

From: Managing everyday risk – Footsteps 79

How to manage risks we encounter in everyday life

by Dingiswayo Jere

Photo: Dingiswayo Jere

Photo: Dingiswayo Jere

Over recent years the Mwanalundu river in southern Malawi has gone through a cycle of flooding and drying up. This was caused by the deforestation of the forest reserves in the hilly areas near the source of the river. The trees were used for timber and fuel, and the cleared areas were used as gardens. Water flowed easily over the deforested land and transferred sand and debris into the river bed which led to flooding. Crops, livestock, schools and houses along the river in the Nsanje district were washed away during the floods. Once the rains stopped, the river quickly dried up and communities suffered water shortages. This article shares how a community managed the risk and reduced the likelihood of it happening again.

Tackling the problem

The local church worked alongside the village chiefs and community leaders to meet with the villagers. They used the Participatory Assessment of Disaster Risk (PADR) process to identify the hazards facing the community, their vulnerabilities to the hazards and then find a solution. They also identified how the community could use their own resources to reduce the risks. It became clear that the villages’ main problem was the way the Mwanalundu river regularly flooded and dried up.

Implementing the project

Results and outcome

In the two years following the de-silting of the river bed, the river has not flooded again. Schools have not been disrupted due to flooding and gardens close to the river have not been washed away. In addition, during both winter and summer last year, for the first time in many years the Mwanalundu river flowed and the community did not suffer water shortages. ‘Through the collective effort of the local people, community leaders and development partners, some of these problems can indeed be history like the Mwanalundu river,’ says one of the village chiefs who played a vital role in the disaster risk reduction project.

Lessons learned

Dingiswayo Jere works for the River of Life Evangelical Church, PO Box 2146, Blantyre, Malawi.

For more information about the PADR process see ROOTS 9: Reducing risk of disaster in our communities

Tools used during the PADR process:

HISTORICAL MAP This tool helps people to identify changes in their locality over many years. Using this tool the villagers discovered that the river used to flow all year round and did not flood or dry up. They found that the cutting down of trees had contributed to the river flooding, and discovered that the large amount of sand and debris caused the floods and droughts.  

SECRET IN THE BOX This tool encourages people to work out what objects are in a box in different ways. The group which is allowed to look and touch know the answer best. In the same way, the villagers know the best solutions to the problems they face, as they are the ones who understand the situation.  

(For guidelines on how to carry out these tools see PILLARS Guide: Mobilising the community.

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