In March 2019, the flooding and heavy rains related to cyclone Idai killed 60 people in Malawi and affected the livelihoods of over 870,000 Malawians. As the cyclone caused extensive damage to the country’s logistics infrastructure, the National Logistics Cluster was activated on 27 March as part of the emergency response. Led by the Ministry of Transport and Public Works and co-led by the World Food Programme in Malawi, the National Logistics Cluster carried out logistics gaps analysis, coordinated partners’ needs, and thereby assisted the humanitarian community to provide lifesaving aid to the areas affected by the cyclone.
Across Malawi, rural populations are generally highly affected by climate shocks with episodes of drought as well as severe flooding lately increasing in frequency, intensity, and unpredictability. When the National Logistics Cluster operations ended in May 2019, the Global Logistics Cluster presented the Preparedness Project to the National Logistics Cluster in Malawi. The purpose of this project is to continue the coordination between the various humanitarian stakeholders and government-led logistics operations to better prepare Malawi for possible future disasters. Mbachi Munthali has joined the project in its early stages as the National Preparedness Officer, and hence witnessed the project evolution.
How has the Preparedness Project in Malawi developed and evolved between its start and today?
“The project was launched with the aim of addressing logistics gaps and better respond to emergencies whenever disasters strike. The Preparedness Project rests on four pillars, namely the Humanitarian Staging Area, the skills and trainings, the innovations in supply chain access, and lastly the regional supply chain linkages. They have been designed to guide the implementation of the project.
While the project was still within its first phase – the establishment of the Humanitarian Staging Area in Bangula, Southern Malawi –, a twist to the operations occurred. The global COVID-19 outbreak completely diverted the operations and changed the focus towards organizing the logistics response to the pandemic and preparing for a potential worsening of the situation.”
In what ways has the COVID-19 changed preparedness work in Malawi and what practical implications does that have for your operations?
“COVID-19 has indeed changed the preparedness work in many ways, which can be best demonstrated by the following two examples. From a financial perspective, there is now a need to procure personal protective equipment whereas these expenses were not in the initially planned programme. Secondly, the COVID-19 has also complicated the overall organisation of emergency operations and missions. For example, the use of vehicles, being limited to a certain passenger capacity, requires the organisation of additional vehicles to enable social distancing. Apart from these two examples, many more new challenges have arisen.”
Being constantly confronted to new challenges when working in emergency preparedness, what is your personal motivation behind your work?
“My motivation behind working in emergency preparedness is the will to help my country; to support the vulnerable persons in my country in building up resilience to different calamities such as famines, droughts, cyclones, or disease outbreaks. Being in emergency preparedness keeps us on our toes to be proactive before emergencies hit. My personal skills in logistics and procurement have enabled me in my work to provide much-needed help to partners and to the community at large, so that we do not find ourselves in a situation where we are reacting to the already caused damage.”
What is in your opinion the major challenge that logisticians working for emergency preparedness in Malawi are facing?
“The one major challenge logisticians working for emergency preparedness in Malawi is the poor infrastructure. The inability to access certain roads and bridges during disasters is a big frustration for logisticians. In case of heavy rains and cyclones, some roads and bridges become impassable, resulting in a gap in the supply chain as the affected areas become hard or impossible to reach.”
Apart from enhancing the infrastructure, what are ways and tools to improve emergency preparedness in Malawi?
“There are many ways and tools to improve preparedness in Malawi. One of which is the use of improved technology. For example, the newly launched information platform system Log:ie (Logistics Information Exchange) presents a new way of sharing logistical information. Besides incorporating data from global and national sources, Log:ie is able to capture rapid reports from the field, such as physical access constraints, and to share these data in an interactive map, with not only humanitarian logisticians in the country, but with the public.
The COVID-19 situation renders technology even more crucial. The use of technology is essential to maintain constant communication with partners, where there is no opportunity for physical meetings right now. Enhanced accessibility to technology and technological skills can facilitate preparedness work significantly.
Improved coordination among partners is another way to enhance preparedness in Malawi. The more partners are willing to share responsibility and to actively coordinate logistics preparedness, the more emergency preparedness is strengthened. When some partners take the responsibility of storing relief items, other partners can focus on transportation or information management. In this way, preparedness would be substantially improved. Concrete coordination and task sharing are key to boost preparedness in Malawi.”
How would you describe the current collaboration between partners in preparedness work, with regard, for example, to the on-going lean season in Malawi?
“Partner coordination is the backbone of preparedness work in Malawi. It includes information sharing, overall logistics planning, and resource allocations.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, partners have been sharing vital information on the kind of services available through different platforms such as the WFP Hub. Partners have also been a great support to each other in terms of sharing resources, mainly in the form of free services for transportation and storage of essential humanitarian cargo.
During the on-going lean season in Malawi, partner coordination is crucial to ensure the timely support to the affected communities."
How do you envision the way forward for the National Logistics Cluster in Malawi and for you as a Preparedness Officer?
"I picture the future for the National Logistics Cluster here in Malawi to be bright. During the past months, we have seen various organisations coming together in the fight against COVID-19 and the lean season response. With the teamwork displayed in this collaboration, I envision the National Logistics Cluster as an ideal platform for preparedness in case of any further major disasters that Malawi might experience.
As the National Preparedness Officer, I am excited to see preparedness in Malawi rise and emergency response become more efficient in the coming years. Personally, I am hoping to remain part of this process for the years to come and to support with relief aid many more people in my country affected by different kinds of disasters."