Mozambique Facing Humanitarian Crisis: Second Tropical Cyclone Of The Year Makes Landfall

On April 25, Tropical Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado Province, causing widespread damage in the Macomia and Quissanga districts north of Pemba and on the island of Ibo.  The storm has killed at least 41 people and destroyed almost 35,000 homes, along with damage to infrastructure and crops. The region continued to face strong rains in the days after the cyclone, making it difficult for aid workers to reach people in need of supplies.  The effects of the cyclone will be felt for months to come, with tens of thousands of people in need of food and shelter in a region where food insecurity is already a concern and which is at risk for cholera outbreaks.

Forecasters have predicted northern Mozambique could receive up to 20 inches of rain in the week after the storm.  The continued heavy rains grounded aid operations, making it difficult to provide supplies for people in the worst-hit communities. According to Michel Le Pechoux, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Mozambique, “The soil is saturated with rain and the rivers are already swollen, so the emergency is likely to get worse.  We’re doing everything we can to get teams and supplies on the ground to keep people safe.”  On Sunday, after the storm, the organization Save the Children tried to reach some of the worst-hit areas but were forced to turn back “because rivers had burst their banks and the roads were underwater.” Nicholas Finney, Save the Children’s response team leader, said in a statement, “flights and helicopters have also been grounded and this means humanitarian access is virtually impossible. We are desperately trying to look for ways to deliver emergency supplies.” The World Food Programme (WFP) also had a flight to the island of Ibo delayed until the weather improved. Deborah Nguyen, a spokeswoman for WFP, said that they “are really concerned about the situation for people on Ibo island,” where the majority of homes had been destroyed, and that “for us, it’s a frustrating day… There is not much we can do to reach these islands now.”

In addition to the immediate aid response, there is also concern about the long-term impact of the storm. According to WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel, “The short-, mid- and long-term availability of food is worrisome,” since “the area is already very vulnerable to food insecurity.”  Northernmost Cabo Delgado province has Mozambique’s second-highest rate of chronic malnutrition, at 53%. The cyclone’s disruption of fishing and agriculture, with about 31,000 hectares of crops lost, will affect the region for months.  With some wells damaged and access to safe drinking water becoming more difficult, possible cholera outbreaks may also become a concern. According to Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, “Malnutrition and cholera are interconnected… Weakened and hungry people are more likely to contract cholera and cholera is more likely to flourish in places where malnutrition exists.”

There has been a strong response from aid organizations on the ground in Mozambique, which are doing all that they can to provide supplies from those in need. With Kenneth being the second tropical cyclone to hit Mozambique this season, the country is facing many challenges. According to Gemma Connell, spokeswoman for the UN humanitarian office, Mozambique faces “a very complex humanitarian situation… having to stretch across the two operations.” There were already issues with limited funding after the first tropical cyclone, and funding for the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth has also been slow. This additional challenge facing the country should make Mozambique an even higher priority for the international community and humanitarian aid funding.

Cyclone Kenneth comes only six weeks after Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique on March 14 near the central city of Beira, causing over 600 deaths.  People are still recovering from Idai, with victims of the storm suffering from malnutrition, cholera, and an increase in cases of malaria. In less than two months, Mozambique has been hit with two of the strongest tropical cyclones on record, creating a humanitarian crisis in the country.  Seeing the continuing crisis following Idai proves the importance of a strong response to mitigate the effects of Cyclone Kenneth.  Having resources stretched thin across the country will only make aid efforts less effective. With climate change exacerbating the impact of events like tropical cyclones, the international aid community needs to be ready and willing to provide basic supplies to the poorest communities who feel the strongest effects.