More than two weeks on since Cyclone Idai, said to have been the deadliest storm to hit the Southern Hemisphere, made landfall over Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, an estimated 2.6 million people have been affected, with a death toll now at more than 500 — and expected to exceed 1,000 people. In fact, the president of Mozambique, the country most affected by the tropical storm, estimates that more than 1,000 have died in Mozambique alone. These numbers only highlight part of the desperate situation unfolding in these nations.
Satellite images from the European Space Agency shows that a massive flood plain 125km by 25km, approximately the size of Luxembourg, has covered a large portion of Mozambique. This scale of flooding has led to many areas becoming inaccessible to rescue crews and aid organizations, and many people remain in the dark, cut off from electricity. While rescue crews continue their work to locate those still trapped in remote areas, around 155 makeshift encampments have popped up and are host to some 146,000 displaced persons.
Among those affected, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are over 1 million children. They are orphaned, separated from their families, or made homeless in the wake of the devastation that is Cyclone Idai. Organizations such as UNICEF are on the ground, working to combat the added pressure existing for those most vulnerable.
In a crisis of this nature, where the government lacks the capacity to deal with the disaster alone, humanitarian agencies are the main responders, and the UN’s system for rapid humanitarian response “snaps into place.” Many organizations are now working to dispatch emergency relief items such as tents, tarpaulins, solar lanterns, and cooking utensils. One survivor is Deborah Kibangu, who fled to the Tongogara Refugee Camp to escape conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Talking to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Deborah said, “My children don’t even have a single pair of shoes… …everything was washed away by the rains.”
From Beira, one of the worst affected areas in Mozambique, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, “The situation will get worse before it gets better.” She added, “Aid agencies are barely beginning to see the scale of the damage. Entire villages have been submerged, buildings have been flattened, and schools and health care centres have been destroyed.” Fore also warns that immediate precautions around the spread of water-borne diseases are critical, as diseases like cholera, malaria, and diarrhea “can turn this disaster into a major catastrophe.” Conditions such as overcrowded shelters, poor hygiene, and stagnant or infected water sources are known conduits of such diseases.
To combat the threat of such water-borne diseases, 11 cholera treatment centres have been established in places like Beira, where 959 cases of cholera have been reported, along with one death. A cholera vaccination campaign will begin on Wednesday, 3 April and will include other areas like Dondo and Nhamatanda, where there have been 6 and 87 reported cases of cholera, respectively. There is also a high risk of the spread of vector-borne diseases, with 276 malaria cases also reported throughout these areas.
Complexities and challenges facing aid organizations moving forward are compounding, as with any environmental disaster of this scale. These latest threats of water and vector-borne diseases require urgent attention if we are to prevent this disaster from becoming “a major catastrophe.”