by Megan Staub
In early March, southeast Africa suffered severe rainfall from the Idai storm system, which killed more than 100 people and led to serious damage to infrastructure and crops — a devastating loss just before harvest season. Idai strengthened into a powerful Category 3 storm in the following days and made landfall on March 14 in Mozambique before striking both Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Tragically, at least 350 people have died and more than 2.6 million have been affected by the cyclone across all three countries. The United Nations has already reported that Idai may be one of the most devastating natural disasters to strike the Southern Hemisphere.
Clean, safe water remains one of the most important needs for those affected by Cyclone Idai. Existing water sources have been destroyed or contaminated, and access to safe water is critical to help prevent outbreaks of cholera or other dangerous waterborne illnesses.
With more than 18 years of disaster response experience and 10 years of working in Malawi, Water Mission is already on the ground and well-situated to respond to the needs of local communities with emergency and long-term safe water solutions.
Our Malawi team is already hard at work responding to the disaster
In Malawi, the U.N. has reported that nearly 83,000 people have been displaced by the storm and subsequent flooding, while at least 900,000 have been impacted in 14 districts. Many of the hardest-hit areas in Malawi are still inaccessible due to damaged roads or continued flooding, and the country remains on high alert for secondary flash floods that could compound the damage in the coming days. President Mutharika has already declared Malawi to be in a State of Disaster and has operationalized the country’s emergency clusters — global networks of nonprofits, including Water Mission, that collaborate with the government to provide humanitarian aid.
Water Mission has already deployed staff and emergency equipment to Malawi’s affected communities, and we are currently working to expand the capacity of our existing safe water treatment systems in the area. Many of these systems were installed in displacement camps after a series of floods swept through the region in 2015, forcing more than 175,000 people to flee their homes. At the time, Water Mission implemented 15 safe water projects to serve 84,000 people in three months.
Devastation in Chikwawa
Cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city. The International Red Crosshas estimated that 90 percent of the city was destroyed by the cyclone, and all of the roads leading into the city are currently flooded or inaccessible. Approximately 1.7 million people have been affected in Mozambique, and the government has reported that 400,000 have been left homeless and at least 200 killed — although the death toll may rise to nearly 1,000.
Water Mission is collaborating with nonprofit partners in Mozambique and is shipping disaster relief equipment to the affected areas, including more than 100,000 P&G water purification packets to immediately provide safe water. We are also sending five Living Water Treatment Systems along with the equipment needed to set up emergency distribution centers. Each system can be fully operational within just three hours and can pump up to 10,000 gallons of water a day.
Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani and Chipinge districts, which border Mozambique, suffered the greatest damage from Cyclone Idai. Currently, news reports estimate that 15,000 people have been displaced and nearly 100 killed, with at least 200 still missing. The cyclone’s high winds and flooding swept homes, bridges, and roads away. As in Malawi and Mozambique, rescue missions are still underway.