Extreme weather events are occurring with greater intensity and frequency due to climate change. Recently, one of Treedom’s projects in Malawi directly experienced the impact of one these disasters.We have become so used to receiving reports of devastating storms, heavy rains or landslides across the world that they have become part of everyday life for us, along with the familiar feeling of helplessness in the face of these disasters.
Sometimes, however, a piece of news hits us particularly hard.
(Video from the nursery at Lake Malawi)
This was the case on 14 March 2023, when we received these pictures from our partner NBUC in Malawi. The pictures showed the agroforestry project on the coast of Lake Malawi submerged – a flooded tree nursery, belongings floating in the water. People could not believe their eyes. What had happened?
On 12 March, two days earlier, Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit the south of the country with full force, having already caused major damage in Madagascar, Mozambique and other parts of East Africa. It was one of the longest storms on record. The result: heavy rainfall and vast volumes of water that flooded whole swathes of land.
(Storm Freddy over Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe)
Moments that will remain in the memories of the people here for a long time were captured on videos taken by Geoffrey Manasseh, the head of our local partner organisation.
The partnership with NBUC in Malawi is one of the youngest in the Treedom network. It was only in 2021 that we started to build a project together in Nkhudzi Bay on Lake Malawi. With its unique nature and incredible ecosystem of 1.8 million hectares, the Lake Malawi Nature Reserve is an ideal location.
We started with great enthusiasm and full of optimism. Luca (Forestry Manager) and I had a long talk with Geoffrey about the special history of the organisation, its mission and the future of the youth of Malawi. His verve and positive outlook made a lasting impression on us.
(The Nkhudzi Bay nursery during construction 2021)
It pains us to see how these plans have taken such a knock, but the truth is: setbacks are also part of project work.
A problem that affects us all
What is tragic in this case is that there is no one responsible (at least not directly). A natural event like this is a painful reminder for all of us that climate change often seems to be an abstract concept, full of complexity that we don’t like to dwell on. It only becomes "real" when it happens before our eyes. Like here.
We have to view this huge issue through its concrete effects. It’s clear that the floods in Malawi are not an isolated case: extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more severe.
But there is hope. Each new disaster is a wake-up call to finally take the threat seriously. It brings people closer together: those in front of the screens and those affected on the ground. Because soon after the first, chaotic images, we get more. They show people rushing to the nursery to save as many trees as possible.
(People in the field saving plants)
Geoffrey was right: the people of Malawi are a unique people. But even more than their strength and resilience, we are impressed and inspired by their ability to stand in solidarity when it matters.
Only together can the big problems, the root causes behind these events, be solved. I remember something Geoffrey told me in our conversation: "Instead of constantly putting new plasters on a wound, you have to heal it from within."
That's why we need to look forward... and move on. Every tree is a small step in the fight against climate change. A small step towards a better future for the people of Lake Malawi and for all of us.
Note: Most of the seedlings and trees have been saved. So if you planted with us in Malawi, your tree is likely to be fine. In the cases where some didn’t survive, we are of course replacing them.