Malawi Cyclone Freddy: rebuilding resiliently

In March 2023 Cyclone Freddy caused huge devastation in South Malawi. It is now considered the most intense tropical storm on record. Flooded rivers and mudslides swept away homes, crops and a still not fully identified several hundred people.

A quick bit on us: ecoLODGy Sustainability & Permaculture Centre is a social enterprise based in Bvumbwe, a few miles from Blantyre in South Malawi. Out of our team of 23 local employees, 21 live in 13 of our surrounding villages.

What’s happening now?

Although Freddy has gone, hundreds of thousands of families are now living without adequate shelter and very uncertain food supply. Through door-to-door visits in our neighbouring communities here in T/A Bvumbwe, we’ve found villages where the vast majority of houses are either completely destroyed or severely damaged and will need major reconstruction of walls. Other areas that were hit hardest by mudslides and severe flooding saw total devastation, like in Blantyre Chilobwe or a befriended village in Zomba - there’s really nothing left.

[Image shows the skeleton of a home after the cyclone]


[Image shows the remains of a family's home after the cyclone]

Freddy arrived just before harvest and damaged fields of maize, people’s staple food crop. This comes after a year of high inflation, making fertiliser unaffordable and majorly reducing the harvest. For many, they only have a secure staple food source for the next one to two months. Some communities have also just experienced a cholera outbreak, and are now dealing with very damaged sanitation systems.

And yet, many people will still tell you with a kind smile that they are doing fine. Their strength to carry on and make the best of any situation is simply amazing.

Will you help us to help them?

Initially, the focus was on providing urgent support such as plastic sheets to cover broken and rain-exposed walls, makeshift toilets, basic food supplies, dry clothing and blankets.

[Image shows how plastic sheets have been used to reinforce walls]

Now, the urgent need is for hundreds of thousands of households to rebuild their homes as quickly as possible.

How can we rebuild quickly, resiliently and sustainably?

Massive deforestation and the subsequent lack of healthy soil with good absorption is a major reason why landslides keep occurring in this region. And yet, the main building material for walls is burnt clay soil bricks, which is currently contributing to Malawi’s high deforestation rate as the trees used for charcoal are usually not replanted or from managed forests.

We would like to support sustainable building techniques that are based on replenishable materials, strong enough to face the next heavy rains and suitable for each location.

Currently, the only widely known and practised alternative to fire-cured bricks in rural areas is sun-dried mud bricks (often used because they're cheaper). These are often not based on proper soil analysis or protection by waterproofing plaster or stabilisation ingredients and are the first to disintegrate in heavy rain.

We have discovered some traditionally built houses, some of which were approx. 45 years old, using wattle and daub method, which are still in relatively good repair. Surrounding communities are interested in using these more sustainable building techniques. However the technical knowledge and experience, and in many cases money to buy materials, are missing.

[Image shows an example of an old home using traditional building techniques]

We would also like to support households with identifying opportunities for small-scale food production around their homes, to provide nutrition, resilience against food shortage and potential income sources. Our goal is to use permaculture and vertical gardening techniques, to adapt solutions to the resources available (water, space, materials, sun and shade etc).

How will your money be used?

We have just completed two surveys covering 78 families, including the ecoLODGy team, within our neighbouring communities to assess the damage and identify where we must focus our support. We have been monitoring the structural state of homes, access to basic needs such as food and water, signs of potential change-makers within the community, suitability for better landscape design and small-scale kitchen gardens, and attitudes to sustainable traditional building techniques.

[Image shows Gerard from the ecoLODGy farm team standing with his family in front of the remains of their home]


[Image shows Harold, ecoLODGy's head builder, standing in front of his damaged home with his wife]

We may not always be able to use sustainable building techniques in the short term where people need immediate repairs. Our long term goal is to help people to build better resilience for future heavy rains. Some of the actions we will take to achieve this are: training community trainers, setting up demonstration households and providing instruction manuals and (where needed) materials.

Here are some estimates of costs to help you see how far your support could go.

  • £500 will rebuild someone’s house (includes foundation materials, bamboo, lime, frames, roofing materials, training costs and transport)
  • £250 will start up a permaculture kitchen garden around a house (includes hardware for water harvesting, bamboo and binding material for raised beds and tree protection, seedlings and seed, training costs, etc.)
  • £50-150 will repair someone’s house (includes bricks, plaster, roofing materials, and transport)
  • There are also additional costs to bring this work together, such as training of trainers, printing training manuals where electronic versions aren’t possible, sharing information, transport, monitoring and evaluation

If you are not in a position to donate money at this time, we’d appreciate your help in spreading the word to potential partners or donors.

Can you volunteer expertise?

If you have relevant technical experience, please let us know if you’d like to contribute to our efforts. We’re also interested in partnering with relevant organisations to facilitate volunteering, internships and research programs.

To get involved or if you need more information, please use Whatsapp +265 997 880 880

Who are we?

ecoLODGy Sustainability & Permaculture Centre is a social enterprise based in Bvumbwe, a few miles from Blantyre in South Malawi. We’ve been working for the past 6 years on providing education and support for environmental practices ranging from organic farming, agroforestry, permaculture, natural building techniques and other sustainability topics.
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  • Harriet Burn
    • £40 
    • 10 mos
  • Denis Burn
    • £50 
    • 10 mos
  • laurie hedges
    • £30 
    • 10 mos
  • Julia Holer
    • £40 
    • 10 mos
  • Anonymous
    • £250 
    • 10 mos
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Organizer

Dr Alexander Evan-Wong, Executive Director at ecoLODGy
Organizer
Scotland

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