OVERVIEW OF THE CRISIS
On 14 March 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira City, leaving devastating loss of life and large-scale destruction of assets and infrastructure in its wake. In the following days, entire villages were submerged underwater as floodwaters rose. Thousands of people were stranded on roofs and trees. Entire swathes of crops were damaged – with nearly 500,000 hectares flooded – and severe loss of livestock is expected, exacerbating food insecurity across the central region of the country. Many families were separated as they fled the rising flood waters, while others were trapped on high ground, unable to access basic goods and services for days. Tens of thousands of people were displaced, many having to flee with nothing as the waters rose rapidly. Children, the elderly and people with disabilities who are less mobile are likely to have been left behind or stranded, while women are expected to have borne the brunt of the storm, as they strove to save their households and livelihoods. Overall, it is estimated that 1.85 million people are in need of urgent assistance.
In March 2019, the Cyclone Idai weather system brought destruction and damage to Sofala, Manica, Zambezia, Tete and Inhambane provinces, killing at least 416 people as of 24 March, injuring more than 1,500 and leaving an estimated 1.85 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Although the death toll has yet to be disaggregated, women are more likely to die in natural disasters than men. The weather system’s impact was particularly devastating as it came in three waves: in early March, the low pressure system caused flooding in Zambezia and Tete in early March, displacing more than 140,000 people; on 14 March, Cyclone Idai made landfall near the port City of Beira – home to 500,000 people – tearing roofs off homes and buildings and leaving death and destruction in its wake; finally, over the weekend of 16-17 March, the weather system carried torrential rains across multiple areas, causing rivers to overflow and a dam in Buzi district to burst, sweeping away entire buildings and leaving people stranded on trees and houses. As flood waters reportedly rapidly rose to above six metres, it is anticipated that many children, elderly and people with disabilities will have been unable to flee to safety. Protection partners estimate that more than half of the affected people are children, while the Government has registered more than 6,500 vulnerable people at the accommodation sites.
While the full extent of Cyclone Ida’s impact is still being assessed, early reports indicate significant damage to infrastructure and livelihoods, with an estimated 3,000km2 of land submerged. Preliminary government reports as of 24 March indicate that more than 58,600 houses have been damaged, including 36,747 totally destroyed, 19,733 partially destroyed and 2,184 flooded. More than 500,000 hectares of crops have been damaged, which is expected to significantly increase food insecurity given that the flooding has coincided with the annual harvest season. More than 3,100 schools have been damaged, along with at least 45 health centres.
Nearly 110,000 people remained displaced in more than 130 accommodation centres – mostly schools and other public buildings – in Sofala (90), Manica (26), Zambezia (10) and Tete (4), where humanitarian needs are acute and both the risk of communicable disease outbreaks and protection risks – particularly for women and girls – are high.
Cyclone Idai’s wreckage came on top of an already serious food insecurity situation in Mozambique. From September to December 2018, an estimated 1.78 million people (IPC phase 3 and above) were severely food insecure in the country, according to the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis and the food security and nutrition assessment conducted by the Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition (SETSAN) in October 2018. Of these, an estimated 814,700 severely food insecure people in five provinces – Cabo Delgado, Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala and Tete - across the country were prioritized as being in most urgent need of assistance, with the most affected provinces being Tete (more than 359,300 people) and Gaza (more than 318,200 people).
In addition, civilians in Cabo Delgado had been impacted by internal violence. Following Cyclone Idai’s path, the N6 road route was cut, leaving Beira City cut-off and disabling a key supply route in the country. This, combined with the massive loss of crops and livestock, caused by the cyclone and floods is expected to increase food insecurity in the months ahead.
The impact of Cyclone Idai caused significant displacement and family separation. Cyclone Idai has also significantly exacerbated protection risks, including sexual and gender based violence, family separation, loss of personal documentation, and issues related to land and property rights. Many families have lost everything – their homes, their livelihoods and family members – as a result of Cyclone Idai, heightening the risks of their resorting to negative coping strategies to survive in the months ahead. Some children have lost their parents, while others have been separated from their families as they sought to reach safety. In the past in Mozambique – including during the 2015-2017 El Niño - natural disasters have heightened the risk of child labour, child trafficking and forced marriage. These concerns are particularly acute following Cyclone Idai given the degree of family separation.
Access to safe water has been compromised by Cyclone Idai, particularly for displaced people living in collective centres, as well as people trapped by flood waters. Even prior to the crisis, only half of Mozambicans had access to improved water supply and only one in five use improved sanitation facilities. Most households impacted by flooding have lost access to safe sanitation, with latrines overflowing and homes destroyed. People who have sort refuge in collective centres – usually schools and churches – are living in overcrowded and congested conditions with limited access to safe water. There is an urgent need to separate sleeping arrangements in these sites, as different families are sleeping together, increasing the risk of gender-based Violence, including sexual abuse of minor children. Meanwhile, people trapped by the flooding have had limited access to safe water and sanitation, as rising flood waters damaged water supply systems and cut access to clean water sources. Each of these factors significantly heightens the risk of communicable disease outbreaks, including cholera and malaria.
Cyclone Idai caused major damage to health facilities, with at least 45 health centres damaged by the storm and subsequent flooding. The emergency room of the Beira Central Hospital was extensively damaged during Cyclone Idai’s landfall, rendering it non-functional. At the same time, community health centres lost access to supply chains for drugs or were unable to open due to flooding. An estimated 67,000 women impacted by the cyclone are reportedly pregnant, of whom 60 per cent (19,000) are expected to give birth within the next three months. The majority of these women were attending pre-natal clinics in neighbouring health centres, which have been destroyed or damaged. HIV prevalence in Mozambique is among the highest globally, and this disaster is expected to increase the risk of transmission as well as to jeopardise access to care for people living with HIV. More than 77,000 women of reproductive age are reportedly HIV positive and in need of urgent access to routine medication and other related nursing care in crisis-affected areas.
Cyclone Idai and the preceding pockets of drought are both occurring in a context of chronic undernutrition. Zambezia province, for example, already had stunting rates of 41 per cent and has been impacted by both drought and floods.
Prior to Cyclone Idai, five districts were expected to face IPC Acute Malnutrition phase 2 or above during the 2018-2019 lean season: Balama in Cabo Delgado; Marara in Tete province; Milange in Zambezia province and Macossa in Manica province. Each of the causes of acute malnutrition in these districts - including low quality and quantity of infant feeding; increased occurrence of childhood diseases, such as diarrhoea and malaria; low coverage of health and sanitation services; and low access to safe water sources – have been exacerbated by drought and floods. Results from the SETSAN analysis also show a concerning food security and nutrition situation in five districts in the north of Cabo Delgado province linked to conflict and violence: Quissanga, Macomia, Mocimboa da Praia, Nangade and Palma.
Both drought and floods have negatively impacted children’s well-being and their access to education. The Cyclone Idai weather system has damaged at least 3,140 classrooms, affecting more than 90,700 students, according to government figures on 24 March. In addition, many children have been displaced away from their homes and schools, and many schools are being used as collective centres for the displaced, rendering them non-functional for educational purposes. In Beira City, most schools were closed ahead of the cyclone and have yet to reopen, including due to power outages. In drought-affected areas, poor concentration in class due to hunger and thirst was reported and shortage of water led to migration of the most vulnerable rural families, causing their children to drop out of school.
With thousands of people living in areas submerged by floods, and extensive damage to key roads and bridges, access to services and basic supplies has been compromised. Many people have been unable to move freely due to the persistence of flood waters in their villages, while in Nhamatanda, people have been isolated between the Zimbabwean border and the flood-affected areas. Food prices have reportedly risen by more than 100 per cent in some affected areas, while transport costs in some areas have doubled or tripled. Poor families who lost everything are unable to purchase basic items. This situation is likely to increase the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation, as boys, girls and families become desperate for life-saving resources.
It is critical that the response reduces the risk of exploitation.
The humanitarian situation is compounded by high levels of poverty, as well as the Government’s limited fiscal space to respond effectively. Despite a downward trend in the incidence of poverty over the years, the number of poor people remains high and inequality is growing. Cyclone Idai is expected to exacerbate this situation, as recent poverty analysis conducted in Mozambique shows that cyclone, flood or drought can lead to a drop of up to 25 to 30 per cent in per capita food consumption and that affected households also cut back on expenditures in basic non-food items. The rain-dependent agricultural sector -which accounts for around 25 per cent of Mozambique’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs nearly 75 per cent of the labour force- has been hard-hit by Cyclone Idai.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.