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Malawi’s Cyclone Freddy: An evidence-informed response effort

30 May 2023

IDinsight Director Tom Wein (first from left at the back) with members of the Information Management Working Group at the Emergency Operations Center in Blantyre, Malawi ©IDinsight

Cyclone Freddy, a storm with the highest accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) of any southern hemisphere storm in history, ravaged Southern Malawi from 11th – 15th March 2023, devastating farmlands, destroying homes, and displacing people along the Eastern districts of the country. This cyclone is the worst natural disaster to hit Malawi since the country’s independence. With over two million Malawians affected, more than 2,000 people injured and 1000 people dead, the government of Malawi is making every effort to manage the disaster and provide the support and humanitarian response that over half a million households desperately need.  

President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera declared Cyclone Freddy a “State of Disaster” to the southern region districts and instructed the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) to lead and coordinate a concerted response to the crisis. DoDMA immediately set up an emergency operation center in Blantyre to gather critical data and harmonize humanitarian responses and interventions by other government agencies, the international community, and local NGOs.

During such crises, governments and other stakeholders need strong data systems and rapid feedback loops to guide critical decisions and provide accurate, up-to-date information about the scale of the disaster. This enables planning and budgeting response work and informs when and where to send aid, and how to monitor the huge range of activities and interventions initiated by different parties. 

As a long-time data management partner to the Malawi government, IDinsight was invited by DoDMA and UN World Food Programme to provide urgent data and evidence support. Having worked with the Ministry of Gender, Community Development & Social Welfare for years, using data and evidence to strengthen the Social Cash Transfer Program, we were familiar with the data systems and approaches on which the Malawi Government relied. We had also supported the Covid Urban Cash Initiative during the pandemic. We had deep relationships with the Malawi government and UN agencies and were familiar with their context.  

Our support team brought a diversity of experience, with two members embedded within the emergency operations center for two weeks. With support from IDinsight’s Catalytic Fund, we were able to sustain this work for three months. We consulted with the DoDMA team on effective, adaptive data collection techniques and worked with the data analysis team to provide emerging insights to disaster management decision-makers. The IDinsight team aggregated and generated insights from data gathered by different actors, provided recommendations for improving coordination, data flow, and utilization, to input into the design and plan for the post-disaster needs assessment, and contributed to the national response planning.

We are exploring further collaboration with DoDMA and other departments on how IDinsight can continue supporting the Cyclone Freddy response. We look forward to working closely with the government and the people of Malawi as they recover from the crisis and begin to rebuild.