Cyclone Idai: Continued Struggle To Reach Those Stranded

Humanitarian organizations are struggling to reach the thousands still stranded by Cyclone Idai, more than two weeks after it hit. Millions from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi are affected by the tropical cyclone, which struck the coastline of southern Africa on the 14th March. Aid workers are anxious to make supplies of clean water, food, and medical provisions accessible to those in need, to lessen the inevitable fallout of the disaster. Unprecedented damage to supply routes, along with poor weather conditions and telecommunications issues continue to complicate relief efforts.

With 128,000 people now in makeshift camps and the official death toll of 750 expected to rise drastically as the flood waters subside, humanitarian groups await “a second humanitarian catastrophe of sickness and death,” according to Claire Rogers, CEO of World Vision Australia. This fear is echoed by Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation’s Regional Director for Africa, who asserted that current conditions “significantly increase the risk of malaria, typhoid, and cholera.” Though Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, Deputy Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, states that “every day the water recedes we reach more people,” outbreaks of diarrhea have already been widely reported in Beira, Mozambique and there are increased reports of malaria and cholera in Manica, Mozambique.

As Celso Correia, Land and Environment Minister for Mozambique, warns: “our fight is against the clock.” Though efforts to relieve worsening conditions are beginning to meet with success, every delay puts a greater number of people in danger. The limited supplies dropped by helicopter in the last two weeks are running out: for many, there is no clean water, there is no food. Without clean water, those stranded must rely on contaminated sources to survive; waterborne diseases can be expected to be rife in the coming weeks. Those who are injured lack the resources and expertise to treat their injuries. In the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Idai, it seems that humanitarian operations are largely uncoordinated, a result of telecommunication issues and the destruction of roads, as much as the sheer unexpectedness of its brutality.

The storm devastated already poor infrastructure. Aid was primarily sent by truck, but supply routes were inaccessible. This was firstly due to flooding, debris and the force of the cyclone itself, and then to sinkholes, as the flood water receded. Telecommunication networks were unavailable, making it difficult for aid workers to communicate with each other or for those in need to gain assistance. Since electricity lines had been torn down, many needed fuel for backup generators – yet diesel pipelines had been damaged and trucks carrying fuel could not gain access via roads. Helicopters were employed to bring supplies to those areas made inaccessible by the floodwater, but they could only carry limited provisions and further bad weather soon grounded them. Eventually, the port of Beira was reopened to ships bringing supplies in and the vulnerable out, despite poor conditions at sea impeding attempts and despite some refusing to leave. Poverty had stopped many from traveling to relief camps, whilst others awaited permission from local officials to do so. Once main roads had been cleared, rebuilt and reopened, aid workers began to seek out those left behind by rescue efforts.

Gradually roads are being repaired, allowing aid workers better access to those who remain stranded. Telecommunications and electricity are also being restored, allowing for cooperation between humanitarian groups and for local hospitals, previously without electricity, to be brought into use. The focus now is on preparing for the ever-growing fallout of Cyclone Idai, but criticism is already surfacing towards the government, as allegations of corruption are set against a clear underfunding of infrastructure.

Philippa Payne