OUR STORIES: APRIL 2019
Building back better: One month after Cyclone Idai made landfall
By Step Haiselden, Global Emergency Shelter Team Leader
10 April 2019
Arriving at Beira International Airport after dark within a week of Cyclone Idai making landfall there were very few lights other than those marking the runway and on the plane itself. The terminal building was in almost complete darkness, but somewhere a generator was running as there was enough power for the luggage conveyor to squeak into action.
The devastation caused by cyclone Idai is hard to comprehend. Although from what I can see media reports of 90 percent destruction in the city of Beira seem overestimated, with most buildings still standing, few buildings were untouched and many have been left with no roof.
Many of those who lost their homes in the cyclone or associated flooding are sheltering in schools. Conditions are grim. This week, I visited Munhonha School in Mafambisse where 20 families are accommodated in just one school classroom. During the day, women and children need to cook on open fires under the veranda outside the classroom, but at night there are more than 80 people sleeping on the concrete floor. This kind of situation is widespread in the region. Clean water and functioning latrines are unlikely to be available so open defecation, poor sanitation and a concentration of people increase the likelihood of a disease outbreak. On Thursday morning, the government of Mozambique already reported more than 4,300 cases of cholera, including six eight deaths.
Other schools are uninhabitable because they lost their roofs in the cyclone and heavy rains continued for the best part of a week. But now that the weather has calmed, new problems emerge. The government is keen to reopen schools and repair the roofs of damaged classrooms and is moving people into makeshift tented camps, often far from their communities. This leaves them without the support of their neighbours or friends at a time when they have lost everything they need, compounding the trauma and suffering. It also separates people from any remaining assets and their communities and they become IDPs – internally displaced persons.
The people of Mozambique are resilient and resourceful. One family I met during an assessment visit were sheltering in an unfinished house, having been allowed to do so by the owner. The children’s school books were drying in the sun, and the steps to the entrance of the bare, concrete frame of the house were strewn with cooking pots. But the owner of the house is keen to resume construction so, by the time you read this, the family are likely to have been evicted. And with nowhere to go, like so many other families here, they will probably have to rely on the generosity of others.
As part of a consortium, CARE Mozambique has responded to floods and cyclones before, but no one had anticipated the extent of the devastation that would be wreaked by cyclone Idai. I have come here as one part of the surge in staff numbers to support the emergency response funded, in part, through public appeals and funding from the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. Our emergency team is working around the clock to provide urgently needed help with clean water and food as well as the distribution of hygiene items like soap and sanitary pads. One major part of our response is also installing temporary classrooms, repairing classroom roofs, and rebuilding in ways that will be more resilient in preparation for the next cyclone.
Step Haiselden is a structural engineer and CARE’s Global Emergency Shelter Team Leader, currently in Beira, Mozambique but based in London with CARE International UK
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