Cyclone Idai: A new type of catastrophe?


“Not a single door or window was able to resist the onslaughts from the ocean, sand, and stones,” recalls Fabrizio Graglia, one of Caritas’s partners in Beira. Caritas Mozambique describes the catastrophe as “the worst in decades.” Days have passed since Cyclone Idai first hit the region and the emergency is getting worse. Cut off from the rest of the world, thousands of families are in urgent need of food, water, and shelter. What is happening on the ground? What can be done right now?

Last Thursday night, the cyclone sowed destruction in Mozambique. After causing preliminary damages on 4 March while it was still classified as a Category 1 cyclone with windspeeds of up to 120 km/h, Idai struck again with windspeeds surpassing 180 km/h, this time carrying downpours from the ocean. Residents in the costal town of Beira confronted waves that were 4 to 5 meters high. “Walls of water,” as they are described by Jan Weuts, emergency coordinator at Caritas International. “Beyond Beira, there is now a new inland sea that has impeded proceedings and made access to the survivors impossible to humanitarian teams without a helicopter or flat-bottomed boat.”

Taken by surprise

In living memory, Cyclone Idai is a first for Southern Africa. Authorities, humanitarian organizations, and local communities alike were not prepared for a disaster of such scale. “Idai is a precursor of the future climate disasters to come. It represents a whole new type of catastrophe for the region and the international community,” continues Jan. “Based on its size, and on the preparatory mechanisms that these phenomena will require of us in the future, it is high time to take heed of the lessons learned from this major emergency.”

The cyclone swept away everything in its path: buildings, roads, roofs, houses, utility poles, etc. Many were unable to evacuate from buildings in time. We have heard news that a hospital roof collapsed, trapping more than 160 people in the resulting debris.

Facing sudden and massive flooding, survivors took refuge on the roofs of buildings that had been spared from destruction. Several also sought out higher ground. We are unfortunately unable to reach everyone, especially those in the south of the region. “In Mozambique alone, there are currently 550 confirmed victims; however, thousands have probably lost their lives,” concludes Jan.

Emergency Plans

Caritas was already active in the areas affected by the cyclone after the first floods caused by Idai at the beginning of March. Local Caritas offices are currently working to identify needs, implement preliminary emergency plans, deliver available basic goods, and evacuate those who have lost their homes to governmental housing, churches, schools, and parish buildings.

As waters recede and access to victims becomes possible, Caritas will expand its area of intervention. This will gradually allow for a more impactful logistic deployment. “Unfortunately, this will take time, as once the water has receded, access will still be difficult due to mud and debris,” explains Jan. “We also expect to discover crops of displaced people who have taken refuge in elevated places. They will, without doubt, be in need of water, food, hygiene kits, and refuge, but also seeds.” Indeed, it will be crucial to quickly replant in order to save the following season’s harvest and reestablish food security for the victims.

Your assistance is vital. Make a donation in support of Idai victims online by using bank number BE 88 0000 0000 4141 and selecting “I support survivors of Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa”.

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