Mozambique cyclone is ‘disaster upon a disaster’

21 March 2019

REUTERS

A man stands where a bridge over Umvumu river, in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, was washed away by Cyclone Idai

A man stands where a bridge over Umvumu river, in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, was washed away by Cyclone Idai

MORE than 2.6 million people have been affected by a cyclone that swept through Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe last week. More than 480 people have been killed and 400,000 have lost their homes, aid agencies have said.

On Wednesday evening, the Disasters Emergency Committee launched an appeal to help people affected by Cyclone Idai. Donations can be made on the DEC’s website, or by calling its hotline on 0370 60 60 610. £8 million was raised on Thursday.

The cyclone made landfall first in Mozambique on Thursday of last week, after a week of heavy rains that had already caused flooding in the region. The President, Filipe Nyusi, said that the cyclone had caused a “humanitarian disaster of great proportion”: there have been reports of bodies floating down rivers.

Mozambique’s minister of land and environment, Celso Correia, told Reuters on Thursday that 15,000 people still required rescuing. 

It has been described by charities as a “disaster upon existing disaster” for populations already struggling with food insecurity.

Torrential flooding has swept away homes and whole communities, and destroyed crops about to be harvested. People tried to flee the floods by climbing trees and on to roofs to get away from the water, which, in some places, was said to be up to six metres deep. Many people are still thought to be trapped, days later, and humanitarian agencies are struggling to deliver aid to cut-off areas.

The United Nations estimates that at least 1000 people may have been killed in Mozambique alone, and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned that “the emergency is getting bigger by the hour.”

About 2.6 million people have been affected, and the number of people reported dead had passed 300 on Thursday.

REUTERSA mother and her children sit beside the shell of their former family home, in the Chimanimani district

“WFP aims to support 500,000 to 600,000 people in the coming weeks,” its spokesman, Herve Verhoosel, said. “I don’t think that the world has realised yet the scale of the problem.”

World Vision’s national director for Malawi, Hazel Nyathi, said that tens of thousands of people had been left without shelter as homes collapsed around them, and some were seeking temporary refuge in schools and churches.

“There are areas where people had to climb on to trees or rooftops to find refuge away from the floods. Many were people whose houses collapsed around them while they were inside. . . These are mud huts, which are typical of Malawi, and just do not withstand heavy rains. There have also been mudslides. People are still missing, and the number of those dead is continuing to rise.”

She said that there had been warning of the cyclone’s arrival, but, for a population already struggling with poverty and lack of food, there was little action that people could take.

“What options do these people have? These are people who have absolutely nothing, who we were having to provide humanitarian assistance to before. This is disaster upon disaster for them.”

Charities fear that those who are now living in camps are at risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, as sanitation systems have been flooded.

A pilot for the Mission Aviation Fellowship, Rick Emenaker, flew over part of the affected region of Mozambique on Monday. He told the South African newspaper Lowvelder: “It was a heartbreaking flight as we flew over many miles of flooded land in the Buzi river basin. We saw many people stranded on rooftops surrounded by kilometres of water. It was difficult to comprehend, and think about, that probably many have perished.

“A number of villages were completely buried in the floodwaters. The magnitude of this disaster is hard to comprehend, and we are glad we are able to be here to help. Please keep the people of Mozambique in your prayers as they struggle with this difficult situation that has no short-term end in sight.”

The Roman Catholic bishops of Malawi have issued a statement calling for help from Christians overseas: “This is about human life, human dignity, and human rights. It is about the very reason we exist as a Church, standing for those in need. Our hearts are heavy to lose human life in such devastating circumstances; we are in the middle of a crisis.”

The Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Rob Wickham, who is an Angola, Mozambique Association (ALMA) Bishop, leading relations with dioceses in the region, returned from Mozambique this week. He was in the country last weekend, as the cyclone first struck land, to attend the enthronement of Bishop Manuel Ernesto, in the North of the country.

“It is hard to imagine the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with our family in Mozambique. As family we must love and support each other in prayer and practical application through both feast and fragility, especially through the events of the past week.  ALMA will be giving regular updates as to the Church’s response to this devastation. . . 

“As we reflect on how we use the world’s natural resources, we must measure our own impact on climate change. This is yet another wake-up call for London and beyond to continue to review and change our everyday behaviours, and encourage others to do the same.  Our consumption of energy is linked to these events.”

The Bishop of Lebombo, the Rt Revd Carlos Simao Matsinhe, has requested financial aid be given towards the Church’s response to the crisis.

Immediate donations to Mozambique will be made via MANNA (Mozambique and Angola Anglican Association), as friends able to respond immediately to need. ALMA will be working on a diocesan appeal through link parishes to assist communities in Mozambique to rebuild their churches and communities at Pentecost.

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