On 14 March, Cyclone Idai tore through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe with high winds and flooding. More than 1,000 people were killed across the three countries, with many more missing and millions of people left without clean water, food or other basic services.
Mozambique was the most severely impacted by the cyclone, leaving around 1.8 million people in need. The World Bank has said Cyclone Idai has cost Mozambique some $773 million – a crippling amount of damage. On 25 April, less than 6 weeks after Cyclone Idai made landfall, a second disaster struck the country. Cyclone Kenneth struck in northern Mozambique. This is the first time a storm of such intensity has been recorded in this region.
On Wednesday, May 15, Nellie Nyang'wa, Oxfam’s Regional Director for Southern Africa was invited to brief experts at the United Nations about the humanitarian crisis caused by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth and Oxfam’s response in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Nellie was one of the few at the meeting who was able to bring personal stories and reflections to the discussion:
"Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
Virginia Castigo from Beira lost everything to Cyclone Idai, including her husband – she said: “l would like to return one day but what home do you want me to return to?”
Our partners and teams on the ground have biked, canoed and walked to get assistance to where it is needed most in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Needs are being met, people reached, but we are not able to do enough.
One month ago, Oxfam, CARE and Save the Children warned that we were already having to scale down emergency and life-saving interventions in Mozambique; we warned we couldn’t help a quarter of a million people due to lack of funds. Today, we are not in any better a position.
I am particularly concerned at the lasting impacts on women and girls. Girls as young as 12 are walking up to 10 kilometers every day to collect clean water, and the lack of livelihood opportunities exposes them to further exploitation and Gender-Based Violence.
In Mozambique, we’re helping partners set up community feedback committees - a solution proposed by local populations – to ensure accountability and find out what people need, particularly around returning home and rebuilding livelihoods. As one example, people have already told us that food is not easily available for the elderly and pregnant, and that “those who have power can eat.”
I appeal to you for increased funding to meet these basic needs.
The devastation of Cyclone Idai, followed by Cyclone Kenneth, reminds us again of the injustice of climate change. Countries that have contributed the most to it, and have benefited from the emissions that have led to this climate emergency, could do so much more. Is it because Southern Africa just doesn’t matter?
And as always, it is the poorest people who suffer the most: living in flimsy tin shacks, with nowhere to escape to - even if they received a warning - and with no safety nets to cushion the shock and start to rebuild. Will they be forgotten now? Without clear actions, poverty and inequality will increase.
We cannot abandon these people to dirty water, long-term hunger, exploitation or abuse. We cannot abandon them to cyclone after cyclone, year after year, that takes away everything they’ve worked for. We must support them and their governments to build back now and build back better.
l leave you with the words of 54-year old Daina Zhuwao from Beira: “We have to pick up the broken pieces and slowly build our lives. My biggest worry is nothing was left standing and I am now an old woman to restart again.”
Currently the overall UN appeal is less than 40% funded. Next week the Government of Mozambique will be holding a pledging conference in Beira to raise much-needed funds for the longer-term reconstruction and recovery efforts that are needed following the two disasters.
We are working with partners to respond in all three countries with a focus on providing clean water and safe sanitation, shelter kits, and we are working to support farmers recover with seeds, tools and training. Please support our response to Cyclones Idai and Kenneth.