Malawi, like many other countries, faces numerous challenges when it comes to disaster management. The loss of infrastructure, property, and human lives from 2023’s Cyclone Freddy is still fresh in the memories of many Malawians. To delve into this crucial issue of disaster management, the University of Malawi, through the Department of Geography, Earth Sciences, and Environment, hosted a research roundtable titled “Disaster Risk in Malawi: Research Needs, Ideas, and Opportunities”, on 19th April, 2024 at the Economics Building boardroom. This informal yet insightful discussion enabled the UNIMA academic community to explore the various facets of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in the country.

The roundtable, which was led by Professor Cosmo Ngongondo, Executive Dean of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences at the University of Malawi, brought together a range of experts to discuss types of natural hazards, different aspects of the disaster cycle from prevention to recovery, and relevant services including health, agriculture, housing, and settlement planning. 

Experts from the School of Law, Economics, and Governance; Centre for Social Research; School of Humanities and Social Sciences; and School of Natural and Applied Sciences led by the Department of Geography, Earth Sciences and Environment, along with industry partners and practitioners, joined forces to examine Malawi's recent hazard experiences and their impacts.

The event was supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of a larger research project led by UNIMA’s Department of Geography, Earth Sciences, and Environment in collaboration with the University of East Anglia. The project, titled “Homemaking in Communities Recovering from Disasters,” co-led by Professor Roger Few and Dr. Evance Mwathunga, focuses on understanding the processes of homemaking, including self-recovery and home rebuilding post-displacement.

Dr. Evance Mwathunga, an Associate Professor of Geography at UNIMA and lead investigator of the research project, expressed optimism about the insights gained from the roundtable. He also emphasized the importance of collaboration and knowledge sharing across sectors, stating that addressing disaster risk requires a multidisciplinary approach as no single discipline can fully comprehend and tackle the complex nature of disasters.

The collaborative efforts and shared expertise are expected to contribute significantly to enhancing disaster resilience and recovery strategies in Malawi.

Industry partners such as the Malawi Geological Survey Department, Catholic Relief Services, Zomba City Council, CADECOM, Churches Action in Relief Services, and international participants from the UK's British Geological Survey and the University of East Anglia, as well as France's International Centre for Earth Construction, enriched the conversation with their practical insights and experiences.

The roundtable also identified critical research gaps in disaster risk reduction and recovery, paving the way for future collaborative projects. Ethical considerations in disaster contexts were thoroughly discussed, highlighting the need for responsible and sensitive research practices. The research roundtable served as a platform for robust discussions, idea generation, and potential collaborations, underscoring the collective commitment to addressing disaster risk challenges and fostering sustainable development in Malawi.