(Cover photo: africanews.com)
Cyclone Idai, considered one of the worst on record to hit Africa, left a trail of death and destruction in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The latest situation report produced by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), paints a grim picture, more than a month after the cyclone made landfall. According to the OCHA report, there are 6,258 cases of cholera, 12,297 cases of malaria and more than 1.85 million people in need. These are not just numbers but, children, women and men in real need. Jesuit scholastic, Tendai Matare, is a second year theology student at the Hekima University College in Nairobi. He belongs to the Zimbabwe-Mozambique Jesuit province, and before coming to Nairobi, Tendai lived and worked in Beira. He shares with us some perspectives about life in Beira.
Beira is a small city geographically, relative to its population. It is the second biggest and most populous city in Mozambique. The housing settlements are not formal and there was no town planning. People came to settle in Beira after the civil war which broke out in 1977, two years after Mozambique’s independence in 1975. This civil war lasted 16 years.
The terrain of the city of Beira is low lying and it is below sea level. Considering its proximity to the sea there is a lot of underground water. Any amount of rain can cause water logging. For this reason, the cyclone Idai’s effects are devastating.
Economically, Beira is a poor city, and the government is the biggest employer. There is a bit of the manufacturing industry, and because of the port, Beira is more of a service city than a manufacturing hub. Most families live from hand to mouth, surviving on small scale fishing as a means of income, and relying on fish as the main source of protein.
The majority of the people live in poorly built housing structures. Minimum materials are used in construction which is often done without the supervision of engineers to certify the houses or standards of construction. Public infrastructure is poor, as the roads are dilapidated and the colonial buildings are old and have not been rehabilitated.
Let us put cyclone Idai in the foreground against a case compounded by a city below sea level, structurally weak houses and a lack of drainage systems. The humanitarian disaster created by cyclone Idai in Mozambique has been put at level 3, the same with Yemen, Syria and South Sudan. The strong winds and heavy torrents destroyed 90 % of Beira, with flooding covering most areas in the city, submerging houses, destroying property, and damaging power and phone lines. It took a week to restore power and phone connectivity. Many people spent days on rooftops with no access to food and water, medication, sanitation facilities or shelter. Pregnant women gave birth from tree tops and children fell into the water and drowned. When the water subsided, people raided a rice warehouse and police had to fire shots in the air to disperse people.
Counting the cost; means of production taken away. Businesses lost their stock; there are no business activities for weeks, meaning that people who are in different trades have not been able to make money. The houses and buildings that were destroyed would need reconstruction to which the majority cannot afford. In short Cyclone Idai completely disrupted all the aspects of the “Beiresians”, a humanitarian crisis that cannot be enumerated. Images and videos cannot capture totally the amount of damage done.
Tendai Matare, SJ.