MSF responds to three African nations hit by Cyclone Idai
Mar 19, 2019
Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique and moved through neighboring Zimbabwe and parts of Malawi. According to the latest official reports, there are now 84 dead in Mozambique, but this number is likely to increase. Idai made its landfall near Beira, Mozambique around midnight of 14 March (local time). The first MSF emergency team arrived in Beira on 19 March – more are currently en route in the coming 24 to 48 hours. At the moment, there are huge needs for food, clean water, shelter. Currently, there are reports saying that around 2 or 3 days’ reserves of treated water available for the city of Beira but after that, there will likely be risks associated with unclean water.
Needs in Beira massive – MSF has a programme for treating patients who are severely ill with advanced HIV. the hospital and medical centre where MSF was working on HIV before are now only partially functional. Despite being severely damaged, the hospital has treated more than 1,500 wounded, so this gives an indication of how serious this is. We are relieved that all our staff in Beira have survived the cyclone, but many have lost their houses and are struggling to cope with the widespread destruction all around.
Not just in Beira city (500,000 population). The plain around the city is VERY deeply flooded leaving people clinging to treetops or roofs.
Roads into Beira all blocked. Access is really tough at the moment, and it’s still raining heavily so access might become even harder.
Other areas to the north in the Zambezi river basin are on our radar – if the Zambezi breaks its banks and creates extensive flooding, this could be another crisis looming, potentially even bigger than the devastation in Beira.
Besides Mozambique, MSF has launched disaster responses in both these countries. In Malawi, MSF has had a flooding response for the past 2 weeks, covering several areas that are affected by flooding with mobile clinics, Water and Sanitation activities, etc. In Zimbabwe MSF has sent an emergency response team to the mountainous areas of Manicaland province, near the Mozambique border, where flooding has caused considerable destruction - roads and bridges flooded or collapsed.
Gert Verdonck, MSF emergency coordinator in Beira, Mozambique shared his witness when he arrived in Beira.
“The first thing you see when you arrive is destruction – and a lot of water. We hear that the situation outside the town may be even worse, but in the limited time since we got here we’ve focused on trying to understand the situation and needs in this city, as there are some 500,000 inhabitants and most houses are damaged or destroyed.
The water system is out of service, so there are large areas where people are really finding it difficult to find sources of clean water, especially in the most densely populated and poorest neighbourhoods.
Life goes on, sort of. People go back to work and start to look for food, but you see uprooted trees everywhere lying on the ground, you see people trying to repair their homes, you see people trying to cover the hole where there used to be a roof. It is still raining hard. I am sure it is going to be a while before the water recedes.
It’s hard at this stage to have a clear picture of the medical needs. Actually, it’s even hard just to get to the health centres, because the roads are destroyed or because the health centres themselves are destroyed. I think that’s our biggest challenge right now. And it’s also a challenge for the Ministry of Health, who are trying to re-establish healthcare as quickly as possible.
Waterborne disease is certainly a worry here. People are using well-water with no chlorination, and that water is unlikely to be clean and safe to drink. Those with more money can still buy bottled water, but not everyone can afford this.
And respiratory diseases too. It is still raining right inside people’s houses, so pneumonia is going to be a problem. And many people are gathered in schools or churches, where respiratory diseases can easily spread.
On top of all of that, there’s the issue of how to treat people who fall sick – with so many health centres damaged or destroyed.
But really, and I want to stress this point, it is too early to paint a clear picture of the exact health needs. We’ll start responding to the main needs we see, but at the same time we’ll be developing a better understanding day by day of where our assistance can have the most impact, and we’ll scale up our response accordingly.”