Aiding Africa

IsraAid heads to cyclone-battered Malawi to fight cholera outbreak with AJC grant

With $50,000 grant, team sets out to landlocked African nation with water purifiers, chlorine and hygiene kits

An IsraAid delegation set out for Malawi this week with a grant from the American Jewish Committee to assist the landlocked African nation that is currently grappling with the aftereffects of a devastating cyclone and a severe cholera outbreak, the two organizations said.

Two weeks ago, Cyclone Freddy dumped the equivalent of six months of rain onto Malawi in five days, causing massive flooding and widespread destruction that displaced over half a million people and killed more than 500, with another 500 people still missing. The storm came as the country, one of the world’s least developed nations, was already in the midst of one of the worst cholera outbreaks in its history.

“About half of the country has been affected, including the economic heart of the country. There are entire villages that have literally been buried by… landslides,” Wayne Sussman, director of AJC’s Africa Institute, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“A lot of our contacts [in Malawi] said, ‘Please raise this in your communities, in the United States. we need help.’ There have been disasters before, but this really struck at the heart of the Malawian people,” Sussman said.

AJC has so far issued a $50,000 grant to IsraAid to assist Malawi, but Sussman said some members of AJC will likely make their own, private donations to aid efforts and the organization is considering further grants as needed.

“We are speaking to more people in the American community. We hope to make additional grants in the coming days,” Sussman said over the weekend.

“AJC has historically had a strong connection to Malawi. This is a country that has a positive disposition toward the West, the U.S. and Israel. There is a strong people-to-people connection and a more diplomatic connection between Malawi and AJC,” he said.

The IsraAid grant will go specifically toward water purification and hygiene efforts in the country, which are even more critical in light of the cholera outbreak.

“We are looking to help people get clean and safe drinking water. Lack of clean water is the main spreader of cholera,” Sita Cacioppe, the head of IsraAid’s Health Sector, told eJP.

A small team from IsraAid will arrive in Malawi at the beginning of this week – some from Israel, some coming from elsewhere in Africa – to assess the country’s needs and begin developing a plan of action. “They will meet with international and local NGOs and visit the sites that have been most affected,” Cacioppe said.

Hundreds of thousands of people are living in a number of displaced persons camps in the south of the country, the area that was worst hit by the cyclone.

“They are bringing [water] filters, chlorine, and oral rehydration salts. You need stronger chlorine when managing cholera,” she said, explaining that the oral rehydration salts can be used to mitigate mild cholera cases, while more severe ones require proper medical facilities.

Cacioppe said the teams were also bringing personal hygiene kits and informational material about cholera prevention. All of these have been specifically requested by the Malawi government in its official reports in the aftermath of the storm.

In two weeks, a second IsraAid team is expected to come in to continue the relief efforts, said Cacioppe, adding that she will likely join this second wave.

Cacioppe said she was surprised at the limited response to this natural disaster in Malawi. “We haven’t seen a large international inpouring into Malawi. We’ll have to see when we get there what the situation is like,” she said.

Sussman from AJC said that while the primary goal of its grant to IsraAid is combatting the immediate cholera outbreak, he hoped that the water purification efforts will be long lasting.

“We hope that it will have a long-term impact, that communities will have better access to water,” he said.