Tropical Cyclone Idai first made landfall during the night of 14 to 15 March 2019 near Beira City, Mozambique. The cyclone, described by the UN as “one of the deadliest storms on record in the southern hemisphere” left a trail of destruction across the three southern African countries Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, killing more than 1000 people, and causing extensive damage to vital infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, sanitation facilities and communication networks.
Many are still missing and feared dead. Access to health, safe water and sanitation has been severely restricted and, in the aftermath, a cholera outbreak has hit Mozambique, with thousands of cases and several fatalities reported. Many are still displaced and in temporary shelters. Thousands of acres of crops nearing harvest were destroyed as the cyclone raged across the region raising fears of severe food insecurity in the months ahead.
One month after the cyclone hit the region, the humanitarian response in all three affected countries, led by the respective governments, continues to scale-up. However, a massive gap remains in funds and non-financial aid needed to mount the necessary response. Less than a quarter of the $390 million needed for the response has been received by the affected countries.
Madelena and her family lost their home
On 14 March 2019, the Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique leaving a trail of destruction across several provinces. Families were taken by surprise. Although some people fled to save their lives they were left with nothing. The full impact of the cyclone is yet to be established.
Madalena says: “I had no information about the cyclone’s arrival. This thing here suddenly appeared. At around 10 pm, the wind began to blow, and then it started raining. Suddenly the plates in my house began to fall, my house started to flood. I managed to leave the house and then my house suddenly fell. My children have not been to class and I do not know when they will be able to go back to school.”
Cyclone arrived without warning
Many families lost their homes and left everything behind. They did not receive any warming about the arrival of the cyclone and could not prepare for it. Hosted at Maganja da Costa district, in Zambézia province, Rosamira Arnaldo says, “I felt bad and sad [after the cyclone devastation], because there was nowhere to go. We were standing on a hill when that boat arrived [to relocate them] we started running [for help]. It feels a little better since coming to the hosting centre. I can leave my daughter playing around and here there is no risk of flooding. This was the first time I’ve experienced a flood like that. I had no idea how this flood would affect me because when it came no one informed us. I will stay here because I have nowhere to go. We have received some support; however, we do not have tents to sleep in. I’m living this way, without a tent, I seek shelter under the trees.”
A SNAPSHOT OF THE TRAIL OF CYCLONE IDAI’S DESTRUCTION *Figures according to the Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC) as of 4 April 2019
There are many families living in improvised hosting centres, where humanitarian relief does not often reach. These families do not want to leave their communities and relocate to the government-managed centres. They are living under precarious conditions, not having a roof to sleep under and feeding only on flour with lemon. “They choose to stay because they want to rebuild their lives in their communities. They think that going to the accommodation centres will slow down their attempts to rebuild lives. However, living in those communities will become harder as humanitarian aid leaves Mozambique. To restart their lives, these communities need construction material for new homes, seeds for new crops and renewable source of energy to improve their subsistence,” Wilker Dias.
There is not enough food for everyone in the shelter. When food trucks arrive here, they sell food at the market. I cannot always cook for my son.Telma, 24 de Junho hosting centre in Beira city
According to the National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC), there are 129 hosting centres managed by the government sheltering almost 130 thousand people. However, the relief is not enough for everyone. Telma is living in a government managed shelter. At only 22 years old, she experienced the traumatic devastation left by the cyclone: “My house was destroyed. First the metal sheet on the roof began to come out and then the wall of the room began to fall. I managed to leave the house with my child and hid in the neighbour’s house. The next day I returned to my house and saw that everything had fallen and had been carried away by the water. I came to the June 24 shelter with my son. There is not enough food for everyone in the shelter and I don’t always have food to cook for my son. When food trucks arrive here, they sell food at the market.”
I can at least have a loaf of bread to eat and I think about all those people who were left with nothing.Wilker Dias youth activism group coordinator in Beira city
It is not all doom and gloom
Mozambican youth have been playing a crucial role in helping the most affected and isolated communities. Two prominent youth activists in Mozambique, Cídia Chissungo and Wilker Dias created an activist group called Grupo Central de Apoio-Zona Centro through which they engaged hundreds of young people to join their actions. More than 250 volunteers are helping to gather and distribute donations in Sofala province. Dias, coordinator in Sofala province said, “I was also affected by the cyclone. The roof and all the windows of my house and my car were destroyed. However, soon I realized that there were people in huge need. Besides the people living at the official hosting centres, there are many communities who also need help. We are trying to give people access to their most basic human rights, such as the right to food and decent housing. Our current challenge is to gather money to buy tents for families to have a place to sleep in. For example, there are around 80 families now leaving under trees in Ngupa neighbourhood and 50 families in Maganja da costa district living under the same circumstances.”
Cyclone Idai was an unusually aggressive and prolonged storm. Such strong weather-events are predicted to increase due to the effects of climate change, with people living in poverty, marginalized or discriminated against being more vulnerable to their impacts, given they are likely to have fewer resources and options.
The international community must do more to help those still in need. People’s rights to adequate housing, health, education, water and food are at risk and need to be urgently protected, not only now, but also in the months to come during which the effects of the cyclone will continue to be felt.
The authorities of the affected countries and of those with most responsibility for climate change and capability should act on climate change to build increased capacity for future disaster risk management, with a special focus on strengthening the resilience of people most in need due to pre-existing patterns of exclusion and discrimination. This will be essential to minimise the impact of disasters on human rights and sustainable development in the future.