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Cyclone Kenneth: Stories of resilience and generosity amid the destruction

01 May 2019


Story and photos by Saviano Abreu, OCHA

Cyclone Kenneth is the strongest tropical storm to ever make landfall in Mozambique. It hit Cabo Delgado province on 25 April and left a path of destruction and a population in dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Kenneth came only six weeks after Cyclone Idai ripped into central Mozambique and killed more than 600 people.

Together with an OCHA team, I came to Pemba, in Cabo Delgado, the day after the second cyclone hit. I came straight from Beira where for the past month I was part of the response to Cyclone Idai.

Like in Beira, here in Cabo Delgado the devastation can be felt everywhere. Hundreds of houses have been swept away. The death toll continues to rise. People need anything from food to clean water and shelter. Here, I hear stories of pain, sacrifice, fear, uncertainly. But I also hear stories of resilience, of people who are trying to overcome adversity and go back to some sort of normality.

In Cabo Delgado, according to preliminary figures from the Government, nearly 40,000 houses were destroyed, and entire villages have been completely flattened. Like our head of office, Gemma Connell, said upon our arrival here, some villages looked like they had been bulldozed.

One of the worst-hit areas was Matemo Island, in Ibo district. More than 85 per cent of the 3,000 inhabitants saw their houses collapse the night Cyclone Kenneth swept away their island. Only six days after the disaster, our team can see a community slowly getting together to rebuild their lives.


Inssa Abdala told me he fled with his wife and two children to the closest Mosque when the strong winds threaten his house, made of mud and canes. Few hours later, the fisherman, went back only to see that the entire house had collapsed, burying everything that was inside. They slept in the open for 5 days, under the rain. “I can’t fish, the water is too warm and dirty, and my boat damaged. But we manage to collect coconuts around and survive”. His main concern however is to protect his family. So on 30 April, the first sunny day since 25 April, he started to build a makeshift house with palm tree leaves, so they could have a roof over their heads. “I am concerned about water, more than food. My wife is walking long distance to reach the closer borehole, and the water is not safe anymore. But we have shelter. That is a start”.


Just like Inssa, many families in Matemo are improvising houses, sharing the little food their have, and helping each other in any way possible.

Lamiti now lives with her daughters Atija and Umboto. Their houses have been completely destroyed, and the whole family, around 30 people including children and grandchildren are still living and sleeping in the open. But they haven’t lost their smile and they are working together to fish when possible, so they have some food to share. “Today, we managed to get an octopus here on the beach. It is only one for all of us, but we’ll make it suffice”, Lamiti told me.


Today I met with Saide Faque, the community leader. Saide is an incredible man. He is visiting every single family on the island, day after day, gathering information about the number of houses destroyed and what people need the most. His own house has been destroyed by the cyclone and he is now living under metal sheets, but this doesn’t stop him from reaching out to his people and being there for them. “We have around 900 houses here. It’s all gone. Our community needs shelter, water and food. That’s why I am preparing these lists, to make sure that the government knows that what we need here”.

Funding urgently needed

To support the initial response, UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock has released a combined US$13 million - $10 million to Mozambique and $3 million to Comoros - to provide life-saving food, shelter, health services and water and sanitation support to people in need, but more resources are needed to mount an adequate response. As of today, despite donors’ generosity, the US$337 million Humanitarian Response Plan for Mozambique is still less than 30 percent funded.