Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe now face a mammoth task of rebuilding, following
a devastating cyclone, which swept through the three impoverished Southern African
Described as one of the worst natural disasters, to ever strike the region, Cyclone Idai
developed in the Mozambican channel between Mozambique and Madagascar on the
evening of March 14, 2019.
The fierce storm then made landfall in Beira, Mozambique, a coastal city of half a million
people, thrashing it while moving on to Malawi and Zimbabwe with strong winds and
Washing away roads, bridges, and dams as it swept through Southeast Africa, United
Nations estimated that, Idai and subsequent flooding destroyed more than $1 billion of
What has just happened in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe leaves Southern
African Development Community (SADC) with no option but to include climate change
into its developmental agenda and come up with a policy to cover all the 15 member
states in order to mitigate the harmful effects of cyclones.
Civil society organisations in South Africa have also called on developed countries and
corporations that are emitting industrial gases to pay for the damage caused by Cyclone
Idai, arguing that the recent extreme weather phenomenon must be seen in the light of
The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC) Alliance said America’s
president Donald Trump and other rich countries that are in denial of global warming
should be held responsible for the rebuilding of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi
and such shows there is need to embrace green politics.
Cyclone Idai destroyed at least 100 000 homes, along with at least 1 million acres of
crops, leaving nearly 900 people dead and hundreds of others missing.
Hundreds of thousands were left homeless and displaced, while many people have lost
family members and friends in one of the unprecedented disasters.
In Mozambique, which was the hardest hit, 80 percent of the second biggest city was
destroyed as two major rivers, the Buzi and the Pungue, burst their banks, submerging
entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the water.
Over 500 people lost their lives, while over 1 500 were injured as over 99 000 houses
At least 669 900 hectares of crops were washed away by the storm, which affected 1.85
Mozambican President. Filipe Nyusi has described Cyclone Idai as the “worst
humanitarian disaster in Mozambique”.
Unfortunately for Mozambique, the country suffered another equally devastating
cyclone, Kenneth, six weeks after Idai.
“Mozambique has never been hit by two storms of this magnitude in the same season,
recently said IsraAID co-CEO, Yotam Polizer.
“This could lead to communities already hit by the cyclone suffering a large-scale
secondary emergency and may hamper relief efforts. IsraAID’s response will focus on
mental health and community resilience, supporting education systems as they get back
on their feet, restoring community access to safe water and hygiene promotion.”
In Zimbabwe, Cyclone Idai flattened homes and flooded communities in the
Chimanimani and Chipinge districts killing 185 people according to the statistics
released by the government.
However, the United Nations migration agency put the death toll at 259.
Over 200 people were injured as 16 000 households household got displaced affecting
250 000 people.
Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Information said at least 30 students, two headmasters and a
teacher from three schools were missing in the eastern region of the country after the
In the capital Harare there were shortages of diesel, leading to long queues following
reports earlier that a control room for the pipeline in Beira that transports fuel to
Zimbabwe had been damaged.
The cyclone caused high winds and heavy rains in Chimanimani, Chipinge, Buhera,
Nyanga, Makoni, Mutare Rural, Bikita, Masvingo and Gutu districts, causing riverine and
flash flooding; subsequent deaths, and destruction of livelihoods and property.
An estimated 50 000 households, translating to about 250 000 people, including 120
000 children, have been affected by the floods and landslides after local rivers and their
tributaries burst their banks.
The catastrophic cyclone did not just leave people homeless, it also took with it their
granaries and food stocks.
Fields and gardens were not spared by the raging waters. The trail of destruction was
Children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and disabled were, typically, the most hapless in
UNICEF Zimbabwe has put the figure at an estimated 60 000 children in need of
immediate protection services.
About 100 000 children need welfare and civil registration services in nine flood-affected
In terms of nutrition, 3 905 children aged between six and 59-months with severe acute
malnutrition were admitted to community-based treatment programmes, showing the
negative impact the cyclone has had on child nourishment and food security.
Before the cyclone struck Malawi, it brought heavy rains and flooding to the lower Shire
River districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje, South of that country killing 60 people and
injuring 672 others.
Over 19 300 households were displaced, affecting nearly 869 000 people.
When Malawi was badly hit by flooding and heavy rains in the leadup to the more
devastating Cyclone Idai, the government said arable and livestock farming was badly
affected and that irrigation infrastructure had been damaged.
Agriculture ministry spokesman Hamilton Chimala said around 420 000 metric tonnes of
maize had been lost, representing roughly 12 percent of the country’s forecast output of
3.3 million metric tonnes in the 2018/19 farming season.
Impoverished Malawi is regularly hit by food shortages, so the damage to the country’s
staple grain is a cause for concern.
Nearly a month on, the flood waters have receded but, in some ways, these countries’
problems are just beginning.
That is because floods always increase the risk of major health problems in affected
populations during the weeks and months that follow the actual event.
Infection is just one concern. Others include waterborne diseases like cholera. Cases
also like non-communicable diseases such as mental health issues triggered by trauma
have been commonplace.
Mosquito populations have also exploded, and with them the risk of malaria.
The countries’ governments and international aid agencies are coordinating relief
It would be important that these do not just focus on the short-term effects of Idai and
the floods — it is crucial to look ahead and try to guard against major health crises.
Immediate consequences of any flooding event include drowning, physical injuries,
hypothermia and electrocution.
By the second week of April, more than 600 people were reported dead in Mozambique
alone. By the first week of April, 344 deaths were reported in Zimbabwe and nearly 60
in Malawi while many others were also still unaccounted for.
In the first 10 days after an event like Idai, there were several health issues to look out
for. These included skin infections and respiratory infections like pneumonia.
There is inadequate safe-drinking water; sewerage systems overflow and contaminate
drinking supply and people’s hygiene and sanitation suffer in the aftermath of any
This increases the risk of diseases that target the intestines, like gastroenteritis and
In Mozambique alone, health providers recorded more than 1 400 new cases of cholera
after the cyclone pounced.
Humanitarian organisations such as World Vision were left with no choice but to mount
disaster responses in the three affected SADC members.
World vision’s initial focus, for example was on food and nutrition, water and sanitation,
household goods and shelter assistance, health, child protection, and education.
The European Union, United States, United Kingdom United Arab Emirates and others
have donated millions of dollars of aid each to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe for
emergency shelters, hygiene, sanitation and healthcare.
Zimbabwean President, Emmerson Mnangagwa said his government had identified land
to relocate people who were displaced by Cyclone Idai, as well as all those still in areas
prone to natural disasters.
Mnangagwa who was recently in Manicaland met with 13 chiefs from Chimanimani and
Chipinge, where he said he would properly consult them before the relocation of their
people to other areas.
“I am grateful for the commitment and perseverance that has been exhibited towards
restoring disrupted lives of our communities which were affected by Cyclone Idai,” he
“I am advised that land has been identified for people who lost their homes to be moved
elsewhere, where it is safe and not prone to natural disasters such as cyclones.”
The Zimbabwean leader said a lot of work still has to be done in rebuilding the nation.
“The task remains to continue to rebuild schools, bridges, hospitals and dams. Our
people across the board continue to give moral and material support in an endeavour to
restore normalcy, not only to Manicaland, but to Masvingo as well as Mashonaland
A lot of lessons, however, can be drawn from this tragedy, one of the most positive
lessons is that it has shown that Zimbabweans can come together without political
parties directing them.
Interestingly, the pouring in of support from all corners of the country and outside
demonstrated that Zimbabweans can put aside our differences for a common cause.
No slogans were needed, no rallies were called for and no campaigning stirred up the
hearts of Zimbabweans to unite across the political divide to lighten the load of those
affected by contributing in cash and kind.
By and large, the cyclone left Zimbabweans united, loving and caring for one another.
The storm unquestionably left governments of the three countries exposed in as far as
disaster preparedness and management is concerned.
Had these nations been prepared and adequately equipped then the impact could have
Despite advance warnings, very little was done to mitigate its effects and now SADC
has a task to deal with climate change as it is real and cannot be ignored.
Factually, the cyclone’s damage and effects could not have been imagined, but that
does not nullify the duty of the State to prepare for it.
Evacuations could and should have been done, planes should have been put on
standby and a disaster fund set up before the cyclone hit.
Supplies could have been gathered beforehand, but that was not to be.
The bulk of the relief assistance and aid has come from well-wishers, civil society and
other countries, but very little from the concerned in government.
It is worth highlighting that the impact of Cyclone Idai on food security, well-being and
nutrition of communities can, therefore, not be disregarded. MA