The devastating cyclone may have killed 1,000 people in Mozambique alone. There have also been widespread fatalities in neighbouring Malawi and Zimbabwe.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 19, 2019

Winds reached 177 km/hour (106 miles/hour) across Mozambique as buildings were laid to waste. President Filipe Nyusi said the death toll from the cyclone officially stood at 84 but is expected to rise much higher. The city of Beira, the fourth largest in the country, has been almost totally destroyed and its electricity and communications have been cut.

In Zimbabwe, 98 people died in the cyclone and more than 200 are still unaccounted for.

A United Nations (UN) Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction has called the cyclone the “worst extreme weather event to occur this year”.

Cyclone Idai has destroyed homes and threatened food security

Per figures from the World Food Programme (WFP), the food assistance branch of the UN, at least 1.7 million people were directly impacted by the cyclone in Mozambique and a further 920,000 were impacted in Malawi.

Karikoga Kutadzaushe, Operations Director for the Zimbabwe Red Cross, told the South African Broadcasting Corporation that the situation is “quite dire”.

“The immediate needs for people is shelter … because most people have been displaced,” he said. “There is need for food. There is also need for medicals for those who have been injured.”

Nyusi said that flooding at the Pungue and Buzi rivers had made “whole villages disappear” and cut off communities. “Bodies are floating,” he said. “It is a real disaster of great proportions.”

At one boarding school in eastern Zimbabwe, a giant boulder picked up by the cyclone smashed into a school, crushing at least two students.

“Almost everything is destroyed”

Tens of thousands have been displaced by the extreme weather, with some temporarily sheltering in schools and churches.

Jamie LeSuer, Roving Operations Emergency Manager at Red Cross, surveyed the destruction by helicopter and said the damage to Beira was “massive and horrifying”.

“The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous. It seems that 90 percent of the area is completely destroyed.

“Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible.” said LeSueur.

A preliminary report from humanitarian information portal ReliefWeb says the damage is likely to include interruption to schools and health facilities, damage to crops (which will endanger food safety and nutrition among vulnerable communities), water supply interruption, heightened risk of water borne diseases due to compromised sanitation facilities, widespread destruction of homes and heightened risk of gender-based violence.

Response to Cyclone Idai

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, said the “United Nations expresses its solidarity with the Zimbabwe authorities and stands ready to work with them”.

In a statement, Gutteres said he was “saddened by the loss of life, destruction of property and displacement of people due to the heavy rains and flooding”.

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the nation was grieving. “Our togetherness as a nation continues to provide strength to those suffering,” he wrote on Twitter. “I am particularly proud of our incredible special forces who are showing great bravery to help those who have been affected.”

WFP has delivered 20 tons of high energy biscuits to Mozambique and its teams have been working across all three countries affected by Cyclone Idai, with a focus on treating malnutrition in children up to the age of five. UN agencies and NGOs have also begun to offer in-country assistance for food security, supply of medicine, nutrition and protection.

Helicopters are being deployed to reach communities cut off by rising flood waters.

Header image credit: IFRC