Photo: Aerial view of areas in Mozambique affected by cyclone Idai. Credit: WFP. - Photo: 2019

Aid Access the Biggest Challenge in Aftermath of Cyclone Idai

By Lisa Vives and Sean Buchanan

NEW YORK | LONDON (IDN) – An estimated 1.7 million people in Mozambique were in the path of Tropical Cyclone Idai when it hit southern Africa on March 15, with upwards of 900,000 people affected in Malawi and thousands more in Zimbabwe.

With the World Food Programme (WFP) reporting that the scene of devastation is one of “inland oceans extending for miles and miles”, the major challenge now facing the region is how to get aid to those most affected.

“The Secretary-General is saddened by the loss of life, destruction of property and displacement of people due to the heavy rains and flooding,” said a statement from UN Chief António Guterres on March 17, passing on condolences to the families of the more than 30 people who have died in Zimbabwe, since the cyclone moved westwards from Malawi and Mozambique.

“The United Nations expresses its solidarity with the Zimbabwe authorities and stands ready to work with them as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from this disaster,” Guterres added.

The powerful cyclone moving at over 100 miles per hour unleashed a moonscape of mud where the bustling port city of Beira in Mozambique – that the cyclone first made landfall – had been.

“The scale of devastation (in Beira) is enormous,” said Jamie LeSueur, leader of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) team there. “It seems that 90 percent of the area is completely destroyed.” The last road to the city of about 530,000 people was cut off when a large dam burst, the IFRC reported.

IFRC spokesperson Matthew Cochrane underlined the perilous situation, noting that colleagues “talked of flooding perhaps in parts as deep as six metres, covering roofs, covering palm trees covering telephone poles”.

In Zimbabwe, the mountainous Chimanimani district was isolated by torrential rains and winds that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.

Zimbabwean rescuers struggled to reach people whose homes were flattened by rock falls and mudslides or washed away by the rains.

Aerial view of Tengani, Nsanje, Malawi, affected by floods due to the incessant rains from March 5 to March 9 2019. Credit: UNICEF/Juskauskas

In Beira, a 14-foot storm surge severed communication with other villages along the coast. Beira is Mozambique’s second largest port where vital shipping to the central part of the country, including Zimbabwe and Malawi, takes place.

President Filipe Nyusi, speaking on Radio Mocambique, said he had flown over the affected region, where two rivers had overflowed. Villages had disappeared, he said, and bodies were floating in the water. “Everything indicates that we can register more than one thousand deaths.”

Ironically, Mozambique, like many other countries in southern Africa, suffered a major drought two years ago. Farmers lost their cattle and crops failed.

Victims are reportedly trapped on roofs and clinging to trees awaiting rescue, UN agencies said, while across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, tens of thousands of people have lost their homes, while roads, bridges and crops have been washed away.

“We are talking about a massive disaster right now where hundreds of thousands -in the millions of people – (are) potentially affected,” said Jens Laerke from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “We need all the logistical support that we can possibly get.”

Although floodwaters have reportedly begun to recede in Zimbabwe and Malawi, allowing some people to return home, WFP warned that Mozambique is facing “a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour”.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) confirmed the scale of the emergency, noting that 260,000 children have been affected in Mozambique, which bore the brunt of Idai.

Hundreds of thousands of children have already seen their lives turned upside down by the devastating floods, and now Cyclone Idai has brought further suffering to families in its path” said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Pakkala. “Many children will have lost their homes, schools, hospitals and even friends and loved ones.”

“Many people are in desperate situations, several thousand are fighting for their lives at the moment sitting on rooftops, in trees and other elevated areas,” said UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac. “This includes families and obviously many children.”

To date, WFP has coordinated airlifts of high-energy biscuits, water and blankets to people crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land outside the port city of Beira, where 90 per cent of buildings are damaged, including the agency’s warehouse and port unloading machinery.

“It was very difficult to land a plane like this,” said WFP spokesperson in Geneva Herve Verhoosel. “Can you imagine in an airport, damaged by the water, dark with no light or radio communication with the control tower, nothing. I mean, those pilots are incredible.”

To respond to people’s health needs, Christian Lindmeier from the World Health Organisation (WHO) explained that the initial priority is helping those with crush and trauma injuries.

“So for the immediate needs, WHO is positioning health kits, emergency health kits, trauma kits and also cholera kits in order to be able to assist people on the ground, as soon as these kits gets there,” he said.

Longer-term needs will include dealing with a potential rise in waterborne diseases and rebuilding “many destroyed health centres”, the WHO spokesperson added.

African populations are already suffering the increasing effects of climate change, said Kristalina Georgieva, acting president of the World Bank Group. “This is the case with Cyclone Idai, which has been sweeping through southern Africa since March 16”.

It is not now known whether affected residents received warning of the impending storm. However, images of the tropical cyclone were captured on a NASA satellite on March 12 and on March 19 by Mozambique’s National Institute of Meteorology. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 March 2019]

Photo: Aerial view of areas in Mozambique affected by cyclone Idai. Credit: WFP.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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