An African diasaster

Cyclone Idai has triggered a catastrophic disaster in southern Africa affecting millions of people. The region has been hit by widespread flooding and devastation affecting Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Madagascar.

Cyclone Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa. The storm caused catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and thousands more missing. Idai is the second-deadliest tropical cyclone recorded in the South-West Indian Ocean basin.  A major humanitarian crisis unfolded in the wake of the cyclone, with hundreds of thousands of people in urgent need of assistance across Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Idai brought strong winds and caused severe flooding which killed at least 1,078 people (602 in Mozambique, 415 in Zimbabwe, 60 in Malawi, and one in Madagascar) and affected more than 3 million others. Catastrophic damage occurred in and around Beira in central Mozambique. The President of Mozambique stated that more than a thousand have died in his country.

Rescuers were forced to let some people die in order to save others. A cholera outbreak ensued in the storm’s wake in Beira, with more than 500 confirmed case. Infrastructural damages from Idai across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Malawi were estimated to be at least US$1 billion, making Idai the costliest tropical cyclone in the South-West Indian Ocean basin.


Idai caused severe flooding throughout Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe resulting in at least 1,078 deaths. More than 3 million people experienced the direct effects of the cyclone, with hundreds of thousands in need of assistance. Infrastructural damages from Idai across these countries totalled at least US$1 billion.[11]


Cyclone Idai wrought catastrophic damage across a large swath of central and western Mozambique. Destructive winds devastated coastal communities and flash floods destroyed inland communities in what the World Meteorological Organization termed “one of the worst weather-related disasters in the southern hemisphere”, primarily affecting north-central provinces. The Niassa, Tete and Zambezia provinces were affected.

An estimated 1.85 million people were affected by the cyclone.  Alongside damage to infrastructure, approximately 711,000 ha (1,760,000 acres) of crops were damaged or destroyed. Much of this land near the landfall area was near-harvest, compounding the risk of food shortages and placing the country at high-risk of famine.

The IFRC reported that 90% of the area in Beira was totally destroyed. Communications in the city were crippled and all roads out were rendered impassable. All 17 of the city’s hospitals and health centers suffered damage.  The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies described damage in the region as “massive and horrifying”.

A tsunami-like wave of water devastated Nhamatanda, sweeping many people to their deaths and destroying the town. People scrambled to rooftops in order to survive. Days after landfall, the Buzi and Pungwe rivers in central Mozambique overflowed their banks. Unprecedented flooding ensued along the banks of the Buzi River.[51] President Filipe Nyusi stated “whole villages [disappeared]” along the Buzi and Pungwe banks.  Rivers in the western provinces of Mozambique were hit with floodwaters from rising rivers. The city of Búzi flooded placing its 200,000 residents at high-risk.[60]


Widespread flooding began on 9 March, washing out bridges, roads, and destroying numerous homes. Fourteen districts experienced direct effects from the storm,[64] with Nsanje and Phalombe being hardest-hit.[45] Rising waters overwhelmed flood mitigating infrastructure, causing dams to collapse.

The disaster directly affected 922,900 people nationwide–an estimated 460,000 being children–125,382 of whom were displaced or rendered homeless


The Cyclone brought heavy rains to north-western Madagascar, with localised accumulations of approximately 400 mm (16 in) rainfall. Flooding and mudslides in Besalampy killed one person, left two missing, and affected 1,100 others, as well as damaging 137 homes. Widespread damage occurred to homes, hospitals and schools. Numerous electricity and telephone wires were damaged or destroyed.


Heavy rains fell across much of eastern Zimbabwe as the cyclone meandered along the nation’s border with Mozambique. The heaviest rains fell in the Chimanimani District, with accumulations reaching 200–400 mm (8–20 in).  Widespread flash flooding ensued, claiming at least 415 lives, with at least 217 people missing as of 2 April. An unknown number of bodies were swept into neighbouring areas of Mozambique, and at least 82 were confirmed to have been buried alive.  An estimated 250,000 people were affected by the storm

Emergency response

The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis overwhelmed rescuers in Mozambique. In many instances, victims had to be abandoned in fatal conditions in order to save others in more dire need.[10] The National Disasters Management Institute, normally considered capable of handling disasters in Mozambique, could not cope with the scale of the disaster. The agency deployed boats and helicopters to save residents. Inadequate assistance left thousands of victims stranded in trees and on rooftops five days after the cyclone hit.

The Malawian government estimated $16.4 million was needed to ease the effects of damage due to flooding in Malawi. Initial estimates placed the number of people in urgent need of aid at 120,000, primarily in the Chikwawa, Nsanje, Zomba, Mulanje, Phalombe, and Mangochi districts. With the support of the Danish Red Cross, the Malawi Red Cross Society provided K18 million (US$25,000) worth of supplies to displaced persons on 11 March. On 11 March, the Malawi Revenue Authority provided K21 million (US$29,000) worth of supplies–in the form of 7.5 tonnes of maize flour, 500 bales of sugar, and 20 tonnes of salt–and gave a monetary donation of K2 million (US$3,000).[80] Local officials established 187 evacuation camps while churches and schools were utilised as makeshift shelters. However, these lacked adequate capacity and many people were forced to sleep in the open. Through 18 March, large portions of Chikwawa and Nsanje districts remained inaccessible by land; helicopters and boats were utilised to deliver supplies to these areas.

United Nations

In Malawi, UNICEF provided various sanitary supplies to residents in Chikwawa, Mangochi, Nsanje, and Phalombe. These included hygiene kits, filtered water bottles, soap, packets of oral rehydration solution, antibiotics for children, and insecticide-treated bednets. Additional supplies were sent to regional hospitals. The agency assessed a long-term need of $8.3 million to assist women and children.

In the immediate aftermath of Idai, UNICEF estimated that about $10 million was required for the most urgent needs of children in Mozambique. The United Nations and their partners appealed for $40.8 million as an emergency relief to help those people who were affected by Idai in Mozambique.  The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) scrambled to airdrop high-energy biscuits and easy-to-cook food to isolated villages. On 20 March the WFP airlifted 20 tons of food from Dubai to the region. An Mi-8 transport helicopter contracted through the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service was brought in the same day, with two more expected to be flown in.  By 22 March, a total of US$20 million had made available from the UN’s emergency fund, and the UN Secretary General appealed for increased international support, citing food insecurity across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, as well as the need for reconstruction.

On 23 March, the WFP declared the disaster in Mozambique a “level-three emergency”, the highest level of crisis.  This puts it in the same category as the civil wars in Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan.

Disease outbreaks

Multiple aid agencies have highlighted the urgent need to supply clean water to people in the area, warning of the risk of disease.  Cases of cholera, a disease transmitted via water contaminated with feces and endemic to Mozambique, were reported in Beira on 22 March.  An outbreak of cholera subsequently ensued with 517 confirmed cases in the Beira area between 24 and 31 March.

The number of confirmed cases exceeded 1,500 by 3 April. At least one person died from the disease. The crowded and poor neighbourhoods of the city were at greatest risk for continued spread of cholera. Médecins Sans Frontières reported at least 200 presumed cases per day. Additional presumed cases occurred in Buzi, Tica, and Nhamathanda; however, the more rural nature of these areas lessened the risk of a widespread outbreak.

An increase in the rate of malaria was noted, attributed to malarial mosquitoes breeding in the stagnant water.  Other potential risks identified include typhoid, another water-borne disease, and diarrheal diseases. Typhoid and other illness ware reported in Dombe, Manica Province. Mozambique health officials reported at least 2,700 cases of diarrhoea by 26 March.



Mozambique is a poor, sparsely populated country with high fertility and mortality rates and a rapidly growing youthful population – 45% of the population is younger than 15. Mozambique’s high poverty rate is sustained by natural disasters, disease, high population growth, low agricultural productivity, and the unequal distribution of wealth. The country’s birth rate is among the world’s highest, averaging around more than 5 children per woman (and higher in rural areas) for at least the last three decades. The sustained high level of fertility reflects gender inequality, low contraceptive use, early marriages and childbearing, and a lack of education, particularly among women. The high population growth rate is somewhat restrained by the country’s high HIV/AIDS and overall mortality rates. Mozambique ranks among the worst in the world for HIV/AIDS prevalence, HIV/AIDS deaths, and life expectancy at birth.

Roman Catholic 30.3%, Muslim 19.2%, Protestant 19.2%, Zionist Christian 10.6%, Evangelical/Pentecostal 9.3% (includes Anglican), other 1.4%, none 9.3% (2015 est.)


Malawi has made great improvements in maternal and child health, but has made less progress in reducing its high fertility rate. In both rural and urban areas, very high proportions of mothers are receiving prenatal care and skilled birth assistance, and most children are being vaccinated. Malawi’s fertility rate, however, has only declined slowly, decreasing from more than 7 children per woman in the 1980s to about 5.5 today. Nonetheless, Malawians prefer smaller families than in the past, and women are increasingly using contraceptives to prevent or space pregnancies. Rapid population growth and high population density is putting pressure on Malawi’s land, water, and forest resources. Reduced plot sizes and increasing vulnerability to climate change, further threaten the sustainability of Malawi’s agriculturally based economy and will worsen food shortages. About 80% of the population is employed in agriculture.

Protestant 27.2% (includes Church of Central Africa Presbyterian 17.7%, Seventh Day Adventist/Baptist 6.9%, Anglican 2.6%), Catholic 18.4%, other Christian 41%, Muslim 12.1%, other 0.3%, none 1% (2015-16 est.)


85% of Madagascans practiced Christianity, Muslims constitute 3–7 percent of the population and are largely concentrated in the northwestern provinces of Mahajanga and Antsiranana. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni. Muslims are divided between those of Malagasy ethnicity, Indians, Pakistanis and Comorans.

More recently, Hinduism was introduced to Madagascar through Gujarati people immigrating from the Saurashtra region of India in the late 19th century. Most Hindus in Madagascar speak Gujarati or Hindi at home.

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