Officials in Malawi say hope has all but disappeared for finding some 500 people who are still missing two weeks after Cyclone Freddy hit the country.
Disaster management officials said Wednesday that the country will now focus on rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by the cyclone.
Charles Kalemba, commissioner for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, told reporters that the search and rescue team has ended operations in some districts, including Chiradzulu, where the government used excavators to sift through the muddy rubble.
However, Kalemba said the search team comprising police and military is still working in two other mudslide-hit districts, Phalombe and Mulanje.
“At this point … the work that they have done, even using the sniffing dogs, the chances of them being found are very slim,” Kalemba said. “But we have a process that would be followed where we would declare the missing [people] to have been passed on.”
The storm killed at least 676 people and displaced more than 650,000 others in southern Malawi. The cyclone, which also hit Mozambique and Madagascar, destroyed many bridges and roads in Malawi, making many areas only reachable by boats and aircraft.
Kalemba said the country has started working on road reconstruction, using military engineers from Malawi and Tanzania. Maj Gen Saiford Kalisha, chief of military operations and training for the Malawi defense force, told reporters that areas that are cut off are expected to be accessible by road in about four weeks.
The cyclone has also raised fears of an imminent food shortage in affected areas. The Department of Disaster Management Affairs said about 2.3 million people in southern Malawi have lost their crops and livestock.
Speaking during a televised prayer organized by the Evangelical Association of Malawi on Wednesday, President Lazarus Chakwera said Malawians should not lose hope but instead turn to God.
“Because there can be no hope if you know that there is no one to call up and too many of us are losing it because our hearts are failing us, because of fear,” Chakwera said. “But we need to understand that there is a higher power who loves each one of us and loves this nation and who gives hope where there seems to be no hope at all.”
In the meantime, the Malawi government has made significant changes to its 2023-2024 national budget to deal with the cyclone’s devastation. For instance, the government has allocated money for the purchase of two aircraft to help in search and rescue operations in time of disasters.