National Disaster Risk Management Communication Strategy

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Department of Disaster Management Affairs
Malawi is exposed to many hazards that cause disasters every year, impacting thousands of people across the country. Recently, and as a result of population growth, rapid urbanization, climate change, environmental degradation and other factors, the magnitude, impact and frequency of these disasters has been on the increase. Overall, the hazards that are commonly experienced include floods, heavy storms, droughts, dry spells, epidemics, fires, landslides and HIV and AIDS. Nationally, although 15 districts are considered as disaster prone, experience has shown that other districts are also affected. The country has recently witnessed disasters of high magnitude in districts and areas that have not experience disasters. In addition, disasters, such as floods, have occurred in cities and urban areas, which have traditionally not been considered in national disaster risk management efforts. Malawi has established weather related early warning systems for floods, strong winds, and drought, among others. At present a range of dissemination methods for early warming are used. These include, but are not limited to, radio (national and local), email, television, print media, internet websites, regional and national workshops and mobile and fixed phones. There is, however, limited understanding of the effectiveness of these methods in terms of relevance, impact and appropriateness for vulnerable communities. In addition, although there exist a lot of indigenous early warning systems, practices and beliefs by the community, these have not been studied and documented in detail. The Disaster Risk Management Communication Strategy has been developed as an important tool in the implementation of disaster risk management programmes in the country. The Government of Malawi recognizes the huge impact that disasters have in the socio-economic development of the country and in attaining the development aspirations of the country as outlined in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDS II). Apart from the potential loss of life, the main negative impacts of floods, for instance, are damage and destruction of property, agricultural and livestock systems, damage to infrastructure, disruption of social services, internal displacement, separation of children from caregivers and possible trauma and psychological distress. Unless measures are found to address these disaster risks, the Malawi Government, its development partners and other stakeholders will continue spending resources that would have otherwise been spent on productive sectors of the economy. It is, therefore, the desire of the Malawi Government that information on disaster risk management be made accessible to everybody in a form that will be understood and enable people take positive actions to tackle the disaster risks they are exposed to. It is only when people are informed that they can take steps to adopt resilience enhanced practices. The National Disaster Risk Management Communication Strategy (NDRMCS) has been developed to ensure that those exposed to disasters are informed about the risks and are aware of the measures to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from these hazards. Due to the importance of weather, climate and early warning systems in disaster risk management, the strategy has deliberately emphasized the need to integrate issues of weather, climate and early warning systems as a way of preparing communities for disasters. This, importantly, means that we need to find channels of communication that are accessible to all people, particularly the most vulnerable, such as those that are illiterate, women and children, the elderly and people with disabilities. The NDRMCS targets many stakeholders nationwide. These include communities at large, local government, NGOs, private sector, politicians, government agencies, opinion formers, religious leaders, development partners and the general public. The strategy also targets policy makers that play a critical and strategic role in policy development and implementation of disaster risk management programmes. The Government further recognizes the media as an important partner in disaster risk management, particularly in promoting adoption of positive behaviors that contribute to attaining a disaster resilient Malawi. It is therefore my expectation that the NDRMCS will provide a harmonized way of learning, information and knowledge management and communication on disaster risk management issues at all level. If implemented, the NDRMCS should lead to a well-informed nation on disaster risk management. In the long-term, the improved awareness and knowledge on disaster risk management will increase resilience of communities, which is in line with the draft Disaster Risk Management policy and the Hyogo Framework of Action. Successful implementation of the strategy requires continued collaboration, consultation, engagement, participation, resourcing and coordination of all those concerned.