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International Response to Cyclone Idai

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

Karen Chui

On 14th March 2019 tropical Cyclone Idai swept through Southern Africa, destroying towns and villages in its path and affecting thousands of people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that more than 3 million people have been affected in Mozambique, Malawai and Zimbabwe. The current death toll has risen to 501 in Mozambique, 59 in Malawi and 172 in Zimbabwe. This is the worst disaster to hit Southern Africa in two decades.

Initial global aid efforts were concentrated on the port city of Beira, where communication lines and roads were severed by the cyclone. However, it was soon discovered that the countryside has also been devastated by floods. Access to the countryside and the people affected is improving as roads dry up, though there are still areas that are only partially accessible.

International organizations have acted swiftly to deliver emergency healthcare services in this humanitarian crisis, as national and local health services are severely disrupted. The World Health Organization (WHO) and partners have deployed a team of experts to support and work with all three health ministries, to send care to areas where it is most needed. Supplies to cover medicines for injuries and primary health care, including malaria treatment, have already been dispatched to the affected countries. The supplies provide needs for 10 000 people for three months.

Many of the affected populations are now placed in temporary shelters. The displaced people are living in in overcrowded settings with a lack of hygiene and sanitation, and insufficient access to clean water. This combined with stagnant water seriously increases the risk of infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria and diarrhoea. “The displacement of large numbers of people and the flooding triggered by Cyclone Idai significantly increases the risk of malaria, typhoid and cholera,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

In Mozambique, water borne diseases, skin infections, respiratory tract infections and malaria has already  begun spreading throughout the community. A cholera outbreak was reported in Beira on 27th March, with at least 271 cases reported as of 29th March, according to the ministry of health. Nine cholera treatment centers have been established.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have deployed emergency response teams to deliver medical services and humanitarian needs, such as providing buckets and safe to ensure safe water and sanitation. MSF have stated they are providing enourmous supplies to the most affected areas, particularly in Mozambique. MSF have begun educating the community on how to protect themselves and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

UNICEF estimates more than 1.5 million children have been affected by this disaster. UNICEF are also trying to overcome the difficulty of trying to reach families with medical care, nutrition, water and sanitation supplies. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said, “We are in a race against time to help and protect children in the disaster-ravaged areas of Mozambique,” at the end of a visit to Beira.There are also concerns about the safety and wellbeing of women, who are vulnerable to violence and abuse,  and children who are orphaned or separated from their families because of the storm.

As access to affected populations gradually improves and the extent of the damage becomes more clear, the international community must be prepared to increase support for Mozambqiue, Malawi and Zimbabwe. UNICEF has just launched a US$122 million humanitarian appeal. Global health organisations must make it their priority to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases, due to the increase risks in this crisis, and continue to provide essential medical care.

Author: Karen Chui


Medical staff wait to treat patients at a cholera centre set up in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

People, moved from school where they were taking refuge, queue to settle at a camp for people displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

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