Malawi's recovery from devastating floods may cost $400 million, take five years: U.N.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rebuilding parts of Malawi that were devastated by floods in January will take up to five years and may cost more than $400 million, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The government declared half of the country a disaster zone when torrential rains and flash floods uprooted some 230,000 people in 15 of Malawi’s 28 districts.

Nearly half a million houses were destroyed or damaged, according to the Malawi government’s Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report.

“The floods were an appalling tragedy, and there can be little solace for those who have lost so much. Now, it is important to support the communities to build back better,” the U.N. Development Programme administrator Helen Clark, said in a speech at the launch of the report in the capital Lilongwe.

An estimated $175 million is needed for housing, $106 million for transport, and $78 million to replace crops and livestock, according to the report.

The short-term reconstruction could be completed within a year but the longer-term efforts could take up to five years, said the report, which was backed by the European Union, World Bank and the United Nations.

“The recovery efforts should address not only the consequences of this year’s floods, but also take into account other hazards – including drought,” Clark said.

Clark also said farmers needed help to feed their families over the next year, calling for the provision of tools, seeds and livestock, and said repairing key roads would restore access to basic services and markets.

The annual rainy season started late this year, creating a shorter growing season that is likely to affect harvests and recovery in a country which relies heavily on agriculture for economic growth and subsistence, the report said.

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries, and about 85 percent of its 17.5 million population are farmers living in rural areas.

Longer-term investment in disaster risk reduction measures, including better early-warning systems and water management systems, could minimize the impact of future flooding and recurrent dry spells, according to the report.