#CycloneIdai: Mozambique counting bodies as thousands left starving

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published Mar 30, 2019

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Beira - Mozambique’s second most populous city of Beira is nothing but a wasteland. Two weeks after Cyclone Idai ripped through the region, Beira is still largely under water, and its population of over half a million people are nowhere to be seen across the vast expanse of water drenched land.

It is only when you near the Beira airport by helicopter can the makeshift camps be seen where those who survived the vicious cyclone are taking refuge. A total of 1.85 million people in Mozambique have been affected by the cyclone’s devastation.

“People are now waiting for the water to subside in order to do a proper body count. It seems that 700 deceased is a very conservative estimate at this point. The relief efforts have now entered stage two - which is to locate bodies,” Minister for International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu told Independent Media after surveying the destruction from a helicopter on Thursday.

Sisulu made her second trip to Mozambique in the space of a week, and described President Felipe Nyusi as very lonely in his plight.

“If you look at the attention the world put on the mining disaster in Chile last year, the world watched the play by play coverage of what happened. The lack of media focus on Mozambique - in what is the worst disaster I have seen in Africa outside of a war situation - is shocking,” Sisulu said, “it seems the milk of human kindness has dried up for this side of the world.”

It is unclear how much assistance African nations have offered Mozambique other than R3 million from Uganda, the involvement of the Botswana Defence Force and the Tanzanian Health Ministry.

Sisulu announced in Beira that the South African government is giving R70 million to Mozambique, and mining tycoon Patrice Motsepe and his wife Precious handed over a cheque for R15 million from the Motsepe Foundation.

After visiting Mozambique, Sisulu travelled to Zimbabwe and met members of the cabinet, announcing R60 million in humanitarian assistance from the South African government. Motsepe also gave R15 million to Zimbabwe for relief efforts in devastated Manicaland.

While UN agencies such as the World Food Program are working flat out in Mozambique as well as Doctors Without Borders, there was little evidence of Western aid agencies delivering assistance on the runway at the Beira airport. For a humanitarian disaster of such magnitude, the fact that Beira airport was not a hive of activity by relief agencies was an ominous sign.

Sisulu hailed the emergency relief efforts of Gift of the Givers who had rescue and relief teams operating in Beira, and were oftentimes the first relief workers the stranded people in Beira saw.

For days many had been trapped without food or medical assistance, and Gift of the Givers teams managed to transport many up river on dinghy boats, rescuing well over 2000 people.

“Air rescue was the only option in inaccessible areas, and we had to hire three helicopters to rescue people. We also set up a successful medical camp with the Red Cross is now taking over,” Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, Founder of Gift of the Givers said. According to Sooliman people are starving on the ground, and the food packages they have been given are totally inadequate.

“We experienced the horror of the cyclonic wind followed by torrential rain, and then watched people’s family members being washed away. At one point seven people climbed up a mango tree, it snapped, and a baby fell out of the arms of its mother into the raging waters. The body was found a day later,” Sooliman said.

Sisulu explained that the damage from Cyclone Idai is far worse than the cyclone that hit Mozambique in 2000, as the previous cyclone damage had been localised, whereas as Idai was along the Indian Ocean and has destroyed vast expanses of territory.


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