By Dyson Mthawanji and Gerhard Quincke
After severe floods in seven provinces in South Africa in February 2023 due to the La Niña weather phenomenon, Freddy, the longest-lasting and highest-energy tropical cyclone ever recorded worldwide, hit Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi. At the time of writing this article, in the countries hit hardest, besides all the damage to homes, businesses, basic infrastructure, roads, bridges and affected crops and livestock, more than 150 persons died in Mozambique and over 500 in Malawi. Many are still missing. The number of displaced people in the 12 affected Malawian districts arises to more than half a million persons. Public buildings, especially educational institutions serve as emergency shelter. All efforts go now into looking for search for missing persons, feeding the victims and avoiding the spreading of water borne diseases – Malawi was already facing its deadliest cholera outbreak in recorded history with 45,400 cases recorded, which claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people weeks before Freddy struck the country.
While rescue and emergency relief is still going on, the debate is already in full swing in the public sphere on why the country is so vulnerable, and what could be done to limit the impact of such increasingly frequent extreme weather phenomena and to improve the disaster preparedness of the country and its communities.
Here, Adult Learning and Education (ALE) can play a critical role, especially in areas prone to natural disasters like in Blantyre City where most of the victims constructed their houses in mountains and along the river banks. ALE can raise awareness about the risks and impact of natural disasters such as cyclones. It can support community dialogues geared towards finding solutions for settlement schemes, access to basic services such as the provision of potable water. Citizenship education in ALE can prepare learners to advocate to government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders for policies and practices that support disaster preparedness and resilience.
ALE understood as integrated work covering all sectors of life, can integrate preventive measures like reforestation into its curricula and equip communities and individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge on how to be prepared for disaster, master early warning systems, evacuation procedures, and disaster kits. Thus, communities become more resilient. Last but not least ALE can support learners coping with the trauma and stress linked to the disaster.
This is what DVV International can do in its partner countries, such as Malawi. In Mozambique, where some community learning facilities of DVV’s partner organizations are directly hit, DVV International can help to link them to possibilities to help with the necessary rehabilitation.
At regional and continental level in Africa, some countries face floods, whereas others face extreme droughts. Yet, on the global level there is less efforts to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide and to halt global warming. ALE can support to raise the corresponding creation of awareness and to practically apply ways and means how this can be done - worldwide. The course "klimafit - Climate change on your doorstep! What can I do?" developed by WWF Germany and the Helmholtz Association for Regional Climate Change and Humanity (REKLIM) is such an encouraging example for a related initiative and involves already 149 local adult education centers in Germany.
Catastrophes such as the one we have witnessed these days in Southern Africa will happen again, more frequently and more disastrous in a wider range of areas not sparing those regions which believe nowadays that they can be on the safe side. With targeted and concerted efforts ALE can at least help to ensure that we are not completely helpless in the face of these developments.