Catholic Bishops’ Key Lessons on Emergency Response from Previous Disasters in Malawi

Members of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM). Credit: ECM

Cyclones and other previous disasters in Malawi have left Catholic Bishops in the Southeastern Africa nation with four key lessons in handling emergency response: timeliness, community empowerment, and focus on both material and psychological support to victims.

Malawi has experienced 12 cyclones that have required emergency response since 2018. In 2023, the country experienced the Tropical Cyclone Freddy which claimed at least 300 lives and caused massive destruction of property.

The Catholic Bishops through the Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM), formerly known as Caritas Malawi, played a vital role in reaching out to the victims of the disasters with humanitarian aid.

In an interview with ACI Africa, the National Coordinator of the development arm of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) said that the lessons learned from the emergency responses have equipped the Bishops for future planning and preparedness.

The importance of timely response


“In the past, many people would lose lives and their dignity because of the delayed response,” Chimwemwe Sakunda said during the Tuesday, January 9 interview.

To address delay, the ECM development arm that was feted in December last year for exemplary emergency response has come up with emergency funding to help victims to their feet.

Need for Community empowerment

Mrs. Sakunda said that when communities are empowered in disaster risk management, they can respond timely and save lives even before other supporters come in.

“This is why we always advocate for community-based disaster risk management and as a church organization we have empowered our church structures and other community-based structures in disaster-prone areas to take the leading role in disaster response,” she said.

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Material and Psychological Support

According to the CADECOM official, psychological support is needed as much as material donations when disaster strikes.

Mrs. Sakunda argued against overlooking the trauma and stress that come with disasters. This, she said, “has a huge impact on mental health which eventually has negative effects on development.”

The CADECOM National Coordinator said that they are working with the ECM pastoral commission to “provide psychosocial support to the survivors of the disasters.” 

Silas Mwale Isenjia is a Kenyan journalist with a great zeal and interest for Catholic Church related communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communication from Moi University in Kenya. Silas has vast experience in the Media production industry. He currently works as a Journalist for ACI Africa.