A disaster in southeast Africa

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 26th of March. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, a disaster in southeast Africa, both natural and man-made.

Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique 11 days ago and then kept going west toward Zimbabwe and Malawi. Almost 2 million people were in its path. Many damaged areas are inaccessible now with infrastructure wiped out.

REICHARD: WORLD Africa correspondent Onize Ohikere is on the line now to talk about this. Onize, responders have described the cyclone that struck those three countries as one of the worst in recent times.

ONIZE OHIKERE, REPORTER: Yeah, it’s definitely a devastating crisis.

REICHARD: Well, what’s it like on the ground there now?

OHIKERE: Yeah, so right now what we’ve seen over time is, for instance, in Beira, which is the central port city of Mozambique, just right after the crisis started, we got reports that the storm created inland rivers that spread 31 miles wide. Initial pictures from the location showed villages and farms completely submerged. You could only see the top of trees out there. And so right now the waters have started to recede and the developing situation is people are starting to search for missing family members. We’re also seeing that a lot of people are moving to Atzberah in Mozambique just because it was also affected, but it’s become sort of the command center for aid efforts just because of how bad conditions are there. And so you’re seeing people making hours long journey by foot or by boat just to get there and get some assistance. We’re seeing similar coordination efforts in Zimbabwe, which ended two days of national mourning on Sunday.

And in Malawi, less than a week before the cyclone hit, the country actually experienced heavy rain and strong winds that caused mudslides. So, right before the cyclone there were already people in makeshift camps in need of assistance and the reality is the cyclone just sort of worsened the condition in the country and created more need for assistance.

REICHARD: I’ve read reports that the death toll will probably exceed 1,000. What are you hearing?

OHIKERE: Since we started following this, the reality is the toll has been increasing almost on a daily basis. Right now, the toll is at about 761 people. Mozambique has the highest number of casualties with about 446 people dead. In Zimbabwe we have at least 259 casualties. And in Malawi, 56. And, like I said, the water has started to recede, so responders are gaining more access to areas that were initially closed off. And while this process continues, we expect to see the death toll rise.

REICHARD: Well, this level of devastation is hard no matter what, but in this area a major humanitarian crisis does seem more likely—infrastructure being destroyed, one of the reasons. What efforts are being made to meet the needs for people enduring all this?

OHIKERE: Yeah, it’s definitely a growing crisis. And just to highlight this: officials in Mozambique are mentioning that right now more than 220,000 people have already showed up at makeshift camps which they’ve set up at empty schools across the country. And what we’re seeing right now is when the UN mentioned that more than 2 million people will be affected. And so a lot of aid groups are already scrambling around to offer assistance although the main focus for now is on immediate needs. So World Relief, for instance, is partnering with a local organization to assist about 9,000 households. The Zimbabwe country director for Christian Aid also told me that the group will focus on immediate needs like shelter, food, and basic hygiene efforts for 1,000 households, which would cover about 5-6,000 people.

REICHARD: And what would we expect to see in the coming months?

OHIKERE: The next phase of this crisis is really going to focus on the impact of the disaster. So, like I said, hundreds of thousands of people have already showed up at camps looking for assistance and that number will most likely increase as time goes on. And so as we have so many people clustered together, responders are already raising concerns that there are going to be a lot of possibilities for diseases to spread. We’re looking at waterborne diseases like cholera and malaria. And that has also sort of influenced the response. So, you have aid groups looking at sending in water treatment systems. In Mozambique, government officials are also scrambling to restore some of the basic services like electricity and water pumping stations. They’re also focusing on setting up field hospitals so even though we’re sure that some of these diseases will spread, at least there’s a form of buffer of assistance for them.

REICHARD: WORLD’s Africa reporter Onize Ohikere is based in Abuja, Nigeria and we thank you for this report, Onize.

OHIKERE: You’re welcome, Mary.

(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Schoolchildren pick up books that were left to dry in the sun after their school was damaged by Cyclone Idai, in Inchope Mozambique, Monday March 25, 2019. 

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