Older People in Malawi Are ‘Worst Affected But Last to Be Helped’ Following Cyclone Freddy

BLANTYRE, March 22, 2023 — Older people are most at risk in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, said Andrew Kavala, executive director of HelpAge partner the Malawi Network of Older Persons’ Organisations (MANEPO). Malawi was the country most affected by the disaster, which swept southern Africa nearly a week ago—and according to Kavala, the death toll is set to rise to at least 300 and possibly even 400.

Blantyre, Malawi’s second most populous city, was one of the hardest hit areas. Located below a hill, “around 500 homes in Blantyre were swept away when water gushed from the mountain at 2am on Sunday night,” said Kavala. “People were taken by surprise, sleeping in their beds and so many bodies are still buried under the rubble.” The government is managing four camps, each housing 500 people who are in desperate need of food and clean water.

Kavala added: “I counted at least 82 older people in one camp I visited and I couldn’t hold back my tears. I spoke to an older man in the camp today and he said ‘Why did the good Lord not take me, as I don’t know how I’m going to recover from this? I’ve lost everything I ever owned’. And these sentiments were repeated over and over. Many older people are caring for orphaned children, and they don’t know how they are going to look after them.”

“People are in shock. This is much worse than Cyclone Idai. It’s much worse than we ever could have imagined.”

Cholera levels set to rise

Cholera is a huge concern for older people affected by the disaster, as levels were already alarmingly high before the cyclone. Between December 2022 and early March, there were more than 1,600 deaths. On March 15 alone, the Ministry of Health reported 247 new cholera cases and six deaths.

Kavala explained: “The government didn’t have the resources to deal with this and unfortunately international support arrived too late. And now, we’ve been without running water for the past four days and water will become contaminated, so cholera rates will definitely rise.”

HelpAge’s research has long showed that older people are at higher risk for communicable diseases—particularly when there is an outbreak. For this reason, older people must be included and prioritized in the response.

Older people often worst affected but ‘last to be helped’

MANEPO is connected to Older People’s Associations across the country and is receiving many distressed calls. One older person called from Phalombe and said that people were saving their lives by climbing up trees but he couldn’t do that.

An older woman in Mulanje called to say that the water had swept away her eight goats, which were all she had. She had been given two goats from MANEPO and had worked hard to increase the herd, “which was all for nothing,” and she didn’t know how she could survive.

"The problem is that older people, even though they are often the worst affected, are the last to be helped," Kavala explained. There’s a feeling that they’ve lived their lives and we must prioritize the young. But they must be helped and treated with dignity."

“Funds are urgently needed, and we have our humanitarian team and our older volunteers poised around the country to help.”

For interviews and more information, contact Alex Garvey at agarvey@helpageusa.org, 205-914-4580.

About HelpAge USA
HelpAge USA advances the rights, well-being, and inclusion of older people around the world. As part of the HelpAge Global Network, HelpAge USA works to ensure that the contributions of all older people are recognized, and they have the right to a healthy, safe, and secure life. Visit us at helpageusa.org.

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