Blantyre, Malawi — Around midnight, Edith Goliyati, 32, made a trip to the toilet and took her 11-month-old son with her, a decision she will forever be grateful for. All day, heavy rains from tropical cyclone Freddy had pounded the area. Her pit latrine was a short distance away from her home, on the steep slopes of Soche mountain in Blantyre.
While inside the toilet, she heard screams from the houses on the mountain above her and the roar of gushing water. She ran into her house to wake her husband and 8-year-old daughter.
“I saw my husband going to our daughter’s bedroom to wake her up, but the mud and debris was now almost in our compound,” Ms. Goliyati said.
Making a split-second decision, she grabbed her baby boy and dashed outside again. “I prayed that they would make it out before it hit the house,” she said.
The fast-moving mud hit the house and collapsed the walls, part of which fell on her husband’s legs. Huge boulders from the mountaintop slammed into her daughter’s bedroom.
“Seeing my family in this situation was too much bear, but I was too scared to come back to help as the debris was coming fast,” said Ms. Goliyati.
She managed to reach safety further down the mountain, and she waited at a roadside for her husband and daughter to reappear. As she prayed for a miracle to happen, minutes turned into hours but there was no sign of either of them.
Trampled by the fleeing crowd
While she was trying to make sense of what had happened to her family, people fleeing the landslide emerged and in their panic, trampled Ms. Goliyati and her son into the ground. Both of them lost consciousness.
“When I woke up, I was in classroom with people gathered around me,” she said. “Some good Samaritans [had] rescued me when I passed out. However, my son was still unconscious.”
Transport was organized to take Ms. Goliyati and her son to hospital, where she received treatment as an outpatient but her son was admitted with breathing difficulties.
“While in the hospital, I was only thinking of getting better and for my son to wake up,” she said. “I blocked out other thoughts on what could have happened to my daughter and husband.”
When her son was discharged four days later, she made her way to Naotcha primary school, where a temporary camp had been set up for those displaced by the disaster. Here, she ran into a neighbour, who told her daughter’s body had been found the same morning.
“The news hit me hard,” she told UNFPA. “The last time I saw my daughter, she had just finished doing her homework. And now she was gone, just like that.”
Ms. Goliyati learned later that her husband was still alive. He had received medical treatment at hospital for injuries to his legs and was staying with people in a township.
Naotcha primary school camp, where Ms. Goliyati remains, is refuge to 1,062 women of childbearing age and 239 adolescent girls. Current estimates place the number of women of childbearing age affected by the cyclone in Blantyre at 4,461, and 2,602 adolescent girls.
Supporting women and girls’ urgent needs
Soon after the cyclone hit Blantyre, UNFPA deployed staff to the district and distributed dignity kits to affected women and adolescent girls.
UNFPA Deputy Representative Dr. Ezizgeldi Hellenov visited Naotcha primary school camp and described the situation as desperate. Partners responding to the crisis should expedite crucial life-saving sexual and reproductive health services to help the survivors cope, especially women and girls, he said.
“As UNFPA, we know that pregnancies and menstrual cycles do not stop during a crisis, hence the need to support women and adolescent girls affected by the cyclone,” he said.
UNFPA, through the UN in Malawi, is mobilizing more resources to reach out to other women and adolescent girls affected by Freddy.
As part of the response, UNFPA has procured 1,000 dignity kits, some of which have been distributed in Naotcha camp. The kits include a 20-litre water pail, a cloth, soap, panties, toothbrush, toothpaste and menstrual pads. A further 4,000 dignity kits are to be distributed in Mulanje, Chikwawa and Nsanje districts, which were also affected by the cyclone. In addition, UNFPA has procured 1,000 solar torches, to be distributed to adolescent girls and women together with the dignity kits.