What is a Cyclone and why was Idai so devastating?
Cyclones (sometimes known as hurricanes and typhoons) are caused when warm moist air above the sea begins to rise. As the air cools down, it is pushed out of the way by ‘new’ warm air rising from below, creating extremely strong winds. The whole system spins and grows like a giant engine using the warm moist air as fuel.
Whereas most tropical cyclones occur far enough out to sea to allow some preparation, Cyclone Idai, was unusual in that it formed close to the coastline, in the Mozambiqie Channel, leaving the Government and aid agencies little time to issue warnings. Central parts of Mozambique were hit by winds of over 220 km/hour. Sustained rainfall, and storms submerged whole towns and villages, displacing hundreds and thousands of people. Roads, bridges and dams were demolished after the cyclone first made landfall on 14 March.
Messages from Manica
21 March 2019: ‘Everyone in our team is fine, but very shocked and concerned with the situation. The damage is great. The majority of the affected area is still inaccessible by road and air resources are very limited.’
The impact of the cyclone was particularly severe on the coastal province of Sofala and in Manica, where eight of our colleagues work out of an office in the provincial capital.
In Chimoia alone, over 7000 people were affected by the floods and more than 600 people lost their homes. Our colleague Arlindo Muambale (see picture), who co-ordinates work relating to food security and nutrition, emailed us as soon as he could – almost a week after they cyclone hit – with news. He’s been sending us updates on the evolving situation - and changing demands - over the past few months.
At the end of March, he described how roads and homes have been destroyed, livestock swept away…. farms flooded and crops ruined. Those who survived now have little or no access to food, water and sanitation. The Mozambique Government asked for international assistance, including for food, shelter, education, health and non-food items, as well as logistical support.
United Purpose gets involved in disaster relief only where we already have a presence on the ground and are is a position to make a useful contribution. Of all the areas affected by the cyclone, we judged that the district of Manica, was the area we could offer greatest help. In the immediate aftermath, we were able to support operations to rescue vulnerable and stranded people; providing immediate support in terms of food, clean water and sanitation, and in a mass campaign against cholera.
The United Purpose team worked in coordination with the National Institute of Calamity Management, a Government organisation directly involved in rescue operations, monitoring the people affected by the cyclone. This included: doing an assessment of how many affected and what the damage is; work out what the correct response needs to be and reporting this to the government.
In April, Arlindo messaged to say that people were beginning to return to their home areas. As water levels dropped, routes were becoming more accessible and communities that had been cut off by the floods were being rediscovered. United Purpose in partnership with other international organisations, assisted with the distribution of food, tarpaulins for shelter, together with seeds and fertilisers. Programmes for water, sanitation and hygiene were an urgent and high priority.
During our latest ‘catch up’ with Arlindo in June, he told us how people in areas affected by the cyclone and flooding are still struggling to access safe water. The United Purpose team are balancing a mix of short term and longer term responses – ‘in the short term people need water so we are fixing and cleaning water wells, water springs and boreholes, and distributing water filters. To help people in the long term we are drilling new wells and building new toilets.’ ‘
On a weekly basis, United Purpose is coaching farmers on the best ways of producing vegetables farmers need seeds and tools – and the hope is to focus on this during the coming months. This is crucial step in trying to ensure that people can grow and harvest nutritious food in big enough quantities. But until their crops are ready, they continue to need food support.
The team are also planning to build lots of new toilets, aiming to help 1,800 households with a water, sanitation and hygiene programme.
In terms of the long term impact of the cyclone, this may be even harder to address. Many children lost both their parents, leaving them orphans and Arlindo stresses the need to monitor the psychological effects on people affected by the cyclone. Thousands of people have been forced to relocate to new areas. ‘The stabilisation of people’s lives will take a long time.’
Arlindo has shared an update with us about an accommodation centre that was set up in a school in Paulo Samuel Kankhomba which is a district of Sussundenga within the Province of Manica.
People were temporarily accommodated in the school as their houses had all been destroyed and they did not have anywhere else to go. The centre accommodated 30 families. They all slept in the same room of approximately 50m2. The rest of the school was reopened so the children could return to school. United Purpose have been providing kits to support the families and empower them to get their lives back on track.
Carlota Horácio - ".... when I saw the water flooding my house I was very distressed because we had nowhere to go. The school is in the highest point with good conditions to shelter from the rain. I study right here in this school. We have lost everything, but we are all alive and well. I'm here with my father, my mother and three little brothers. My school uniform was the only outfit I managed to save”
"I am very sad because we lost our food, we had the barn full of corn, we had our livestock and our machamba (field). Here in the accommodation centre we were starving. With these things I received I will have some relief. My kids will use this plastic to protect me from the rain. I will also be able to start planting seeds, I have faith that things will improve. Tell the people who are helping us that we thank you very much, you are all angels for us”
“I am a woman and a mother, if I do nothing to support my family, who will do it for me? My disability does not stop me from doing anything, when I had the accident and lost my arm I was 15, I thought it was the end of my life, but over time I realized that fortunately I still have one arm, two legs and health and I decided to live the best way possible. I cannot wait to go back to my area, I will rebuild my house, I would not like to go to the resettlement centre because it will be a new area and I will have to adapt to everything. This Idai came to destroy us, but we are strong and with your support we will survive and rebuild our lives. Thank you so much for the help and the conversation, you have chosen me to talk and for me it is a way to relax and build hope for the next days”