Rescue efforts in Malawi following tropical cyclone Freddy Rescue efforts in Malawi following tropical cyclone Freddy  (AFP or licensors)

Malawi Church leader highlights faith and solidarity in cyclone recovery

The head of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi in an interview with Agenzia Fides describes the devastation caused by cyclone Freddy in early March and the great faith and solidarity driving the recovery efforts still underway.

By Thaddeus Jones

Emergency rescue efforts are still underway in the southeast African nation of Malawi, hardest hit by tropical cyclone Freddy in early March 2023. The tropical storm killed over six hundred people in Malawi, while over five hundred remain missing. Nations also struck by the cyclone include Mozambique and Madagascar, but Malawi took the brunt of the storm's massive force. The tragedy is considered one of the worst ever to hit Malawi.

Extreme storm

Tropical Cyclone Freddy lasted over a month and became the longest-lasting cyclone ever. It formed in early February between Australia and Indonesia, travelled westward over eight thousand kilometres, and made landfall numerous times moving in a looping pattern. The storm reached category five, the strongest of storms, before dissipating in mid-March.

Apart from wind damage, Malawi got hit by massive flooding and landslides. The risk of waterborne diseases is rising. Speaking to Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Malawi Archbishop George Desmond Tambala of Lilongwe, described it as "a huge tragedy that has never happened in the history of the country." Archbishop Tambala is also President of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi. 

Appealing for cyclone-battered Malawi, Pope Francis in mid-March expressed his closeness to the people and prayed that the Lord may support the families and communities so tried by this calamity.

Emergency and short-term challenges

While people are trying to cope with the loss of loved ones and livelihoods, many others are still searching for family members and friends not yet found. Search efforts are still underway, but hopes of finding any remaining survivors are fading. Among the greatest challenges now as the emergency efforts subside, says Archbishop Tambala in the Fides interview, is the procurement of food, and the problem of destroyed homes and infrastructures. Undamaged schools are slowly reopening. Thankfully, international aid is arriving and the government has mobilized all resources possible, he says. 

Regarding food provisions, Archbishop Tambala notes that the cyclone caused huge damage to agriculture at a time when the rainy season ends and it is not possible to grow new crops due to the lack of water that dries up. The massive flooding will make growing anything very challenging in the short term, but he hopes that at least staple crops such as cassava and potatoes can be produced while crops that require more time, such as corn or other cereal, will likely not be possible. 

Hope reflected in worship and solidarity

At the same, Archbishop Tambala describes how the worst of disasters has brought out the best in people, saying people have not lost faith and hope. They have risen to the occasion to assist everyone they can, coming to Mass to pray for one another and helping with Church emergency outreach efforts to the affected through its health and social centers as well as its schools.

This solidarity in action is reflected in families sharing what little they have with others, people coming together to cook for those who have nothing, and people generously making offerings in parish collections to create a fund for cyclone victims. The efforts have also involved interreligious collaboration and solidarity among people of different faiths. 

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04 April 2023, 12:51