Amid Mozambique’s Devastation, Hope for Victims of Cyclone Idai

When Cyclone Idai roared across Mozambique in March, the storm’s severity surprised everyone. One of the most devastating storms in Africa on record, its intense winds, heavy rainfall, and subsequent flooding affected some 3 million people, not only in Mozambique, but also in Zimbabwe and Malawi. Many lost their homes, crops, and everything they owned. 

“We heard that there might be a storm, but we never thought it would anything like this,” Teresa Zaquel told me last week. We had just met in the temporary relocation camp in Guara Guara, Mozambique, where she now lives after losing her home and land to Idai.  

“I really lost everything,” she continued. “And I didn’t have much in the first place.”

My colleague Mark Yarnell and I have been in Mozambique for the last 10 days looking at the needs of the people, trying to better understand the emergency response, and learning about what the plans are going forward. Responding to Idai is challenging because many people affected by the storm were already extremely poor, living lives of basic subsistence. Mozambique ranks 181 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index.  

Nonetheless, the initial response was relatively swift, well-organized, and effective. More than 11 countries sent soldiers and assets to Beira, Mozambique—the main city hit hard by the storm—to provide aid, logistical support, and initial search and rescue efforts. Two months on, however, most emergency staff have gone home or will soon leave. Furthermore, longer-term assistance has yet to come online. While the recovery phase will soon begin, the UN donor appeal for the Idai response is only 30 percent funded.  

For Teresa, the future was deeply uncertain. The good news was that she, her husband and their five children had a place to live—a UN donated tent. Her family also had the basics. They received rice every two weeks and there are rudimentary latrines nearby. However, Teresa told us she would never be able to return to her home because it is not safe and would probably flood again. She is waiting for a piece of land where she can settle permanently. Although she was poor before the cyclone and likely will remain poor, she wants to rebuild her life, replant her crops, and start over.  

“I still feel traumatized by Idai,” she says. “While I lost my house, so many other people in the community also lost their lives.”

“Even my uncle’s family. More than 11 family members including my uncle, his wife and their four children all died because the flooding swept them away. I am not the only one. I think that there is so much sadness and people need some help with their mental health.”  

I met many women and men over the last few days who were very open in sharing their stories. As I prepared to leave Mozambique, I read the notes I took during my conversations and thought how best to advocate for people’s continuing needs even after the emergency is declared over. At the end of my notes, I find some good news for Teresa.  

“The government authorities have just told me today that I will be moving,” she told me. “They have allocated a very small plot of land for me to settle on permanently. It is only walking distance away.”  

When will you move, I ask her?  

Her response: “Monday.”