"I signed up to save lives" - Personal report from Oxfam's Cyclone Idai response

Stewart Muchapera, Oxfam Media and Communications Lead, gives a personal report from Beira in Mozambique, on our relief efforts after Cyclone Idai devastates southern Africa.

My alarm clock goes off at 4 am. I had deliberately placed it away from my bed so I would be forced to get up.

For days I had been trying to get on a flight into Beira, the port city in Mozambique where cyclone Idai made landfall, and so I couldn’t afford to miss this one.

As the plane begins its descent into Beira, I get my first glimpse of the damage inflicted by Idai and the floods that preceded it.

I knew Beira had been hit hard – that 90 percent of the city was still under water - yet nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

Beira resembles a city at war: homes have been razed to the ground as if bombed from the air; some are submerged in water; roofs have been blown away; trees uprooted, and fields and crops flooded.

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Cyclone Idai hit landfall on the night of 14-15 March causing extensive damage in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique with homes, agricultural land completely wiped out in some areas. Credit: Sergio Zimba/Oxfam

Cyclone Idai hit landfall on the night of 14-15 March causing extensive damage in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique with homes, agricultural land completely wiped out in some areas. Credit: Sergio Zimba/Oxfam

On arrival the airport is abuzz with activity. It’s the only place in Beira with functional telecommunications so the United Nations and many international aid agencies have made it their base – and this is where I will be living for the coming days.

Much of the building resembles a war room: maps cover the walls and everywhere; men and women are huddled together trying to work out how to get aid out to people in desperate need.

There is the constant noise of helicopters and planes taking off with emergency supplies for areas in the city and beyond that are only accessible by air.

Oxfam too is working a local partner organization, AJOAGO, trying to organize a helicopter to distribute family kits to communities in Buzi, one of the worst hit areas of the city where families are reported to be living on the rooftops of flooded houses.

Each family kit contains blankets, a bucket, mosquito nets, a jerry can, spoons and cloth wrappers. The hope is these kits will help prevent the spread of deadly diseases such as cholera and malaria.

Survivors of Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, face water and electricity shortages and are at risk of waterborne diseases carried in contaminated flood water. Credit: Sergio Zimba/Oxfam

Survivors of Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, face water and electricity shortages and are at risk of waterborne diseases carried in contaminated flood water. Credit: Sergio Zimba/Oxfam

While we are waiting for the flight, I head for Dondo, about 30 kilometers out of Beira, where a camp has been set up for displaced people. With my notebook and camera, I spend the afternoon listening to inspirational men and women who, despite losing everything, still wear a smile on the weary faces.

“There is nothing we could have done - we were in its path. We lost everything - our homes, blankets and food. We are waiting for the rains to subside so that we can go home and rebuild,” said Jacinta Verisha, a mother of four who lost her home and now living in a tent donated by COSACA, a consortium of aid agencies including Oxfam, Care and Save the Children. 

As I bid farewell to Jacinta l wonder how long she will have to stay in the camp. Will she and her family make it home? Will her kids get back to school? Will they survive the outbreaks of disease such as malaria or cholera that so often strike in the aftermath of major disasters?

The Indian Navy rescue men, women and children stranded by Cyclone Idai in Buzi and surrounding islands, Mozambique. Photo: Tina Kruger/Oxfam

The Indian Navy rescue men, women and children stranded by Cyclone Idai in Buzi and surrounding islands, Mozambique. Photo: Tina Kruger/Oxfam

How many more people like Jacinta will I meet? How many more people will have their lives turned upside down as climate change brings more frequent and more destructive weather to our continent?

What I do know is that Oxfam, and our supporters across the globe, will make a huge difference to people like Jacinta, providing emergency assistance such as clean water and shelter to people who desperately need help now and helping people rebuild their communities, and their lives, in the months and years ahead.

I signed up to work at Oxfam to help save lives – being here in Beira is stark reminder of my commitment.

Survivors of Cyclone Idai shelter in abandoned buildings in Mozambique. Photo: Sergio Zimba/Oxfam

This entry posted on 25 March 2019, by Stewart Muchapera, Oxfam Media and Communications Lead, writing from Beira in Mozambique.

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