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Mozambique: “Three months on, the world’s attention has moved on. We cannot let this happen”

14 Jun 2019


Ms. Mueller at the Women Safe Space in the Mutua settlement site, led by UNFPA, which offers psychosocial support, educative and awareness activities. Credit: OCHA/Saviano Abreu

Today marks three months since Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique. Deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller visited the country last week. She spoke to people, heard their stories – stories of devastation, of fear, but also stories of survival, of immense strength and gratitude. Ms Mueller saw first-hand the accomplishments made possible by the rapid humanitarian response put in place from day one and the ongoing efforts to make sure the country can withstand the challenges ahead.

“I saw a country fighting hard to transition into recovery and reconstruction” Ms. Muelller said. “The task is daunting. Two consecutive cyclones have literally washed away entire villages. The time to show solidarity to the people of Mozambique is now as humanitarian partners continue to work tirelessly to bring relief to thousands of families, with the main objective not to leave anyone behind while preparing for what is to come.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their livelihoods due to the cyclones and the drought that preceded them, and the next main harvest will not be until March 2020, so efforts are concentrating on preparing to respond in the months ahead.

“In Mozambique, I have seen an excellent example of collaboration between the Government and the international humanitarian system to meet the urgent needs of people impacted by two horrific and devastating cyclones. However, as we prepare for the critical transition to recovery and reconstruction, urgent humanitarian needs remain, and it is imperative that we address them. We must work to ensure that no one is left behind, and that displaced people are resettled in a way that is safe, dignified, voluntary, informed and durable.”

Vitória: “I just want to be able to feed my children”

Vitoria with one of her children. Photo: OCHA/Saviano Abreu

During her visit, Ms. Mueller spoke to Vitória, a fierce, generous woman who is still trying to recover from the trauma of the cyclone, the horror of seeing a baby dying in front of her eyes, and the fear not to see her children ever again.

“I fled my home with my children when Idai hit. My first instinct was to quickly get in a boat, cross the river and find shelter for my children. Once I knew they were safe, I went back to see if there was anything I could still save. There was nothing left. My home was destroyed, all my belongings, food stock, everything was gone. I couldn’t see the boat coming back to rescue me and I couldn’t cross the river again. The next day, while trying to find a way to go back to my children, the water levels suddenly rose. It happened very fast and the flood water was going above my head. The only thing I could do was to climb a tree and wait for someone to come and rescue me. Another mother was also struggling to stay afloat. I tried to help her, but her baby fell in the water. All I remember is that suddenly we could not see the baby anymore. She was desperate, and I did my best to help. And I kept thinking of my children waiting for me. It is a traumatic experience no one should ever go through.”

Helping women live safely

Ms. Mueller speaks with women sheltering at the Women Safe Space. Credit: OCHA/Saviano Abreu

Ms. Mueller met many women who shared with her their fears. In humanitarian crises, including natural disasters, women are more exposed to the risk of violence and exploitation. Idai is no exception.

Humanitarian partners have worked hard to set up spaces like the Women Safe Space in the Mutua settlement site, where a large number of them now live. Led by UNFPA, the space offers psychosocial support, educative and awareness activities, workshops and discussions to minimize the risk of gender-based violence.

“Vitória told me how happy she was when she could cultivate her land, sell some products and put food on the table for the family. That´s all she, and most women in the camp, want - a roof over their head, a small piece of land to start cultivating maize and vegetables to feed their children, and safety”.

As part of the resettlement of families who have lost all they had, humanitarian partners are concentrating on preparing for the months ahead, as the levels of food insecurity are expected to increase due to extensive damage to crops and livelihoods. “We have to work hard so these people can go back to a sense of normality, including being able to cultivate the essential to feed their families so as not to depend completely on humanitarian aid”, Ms. Mueller stressed.

People survive thanks to humanitarian aid

Maria with her baby daughter is among those who survive on emergency aid. Photo: OCHA/Saviano Abreu

“During my visit, many people told me how grateful they are for the help they receive. Most of them would not have made it without the emergency food, water, shelter and medicine they received in the immediate aftermath of the cyclones. Their stories are heartbreaking. So many needs, yet so much dignity.”

The initial outpouring of support for Mozambique – with teams, supplies and assets deployed from around the world – was impressive. But the Humanitarian Response Plan remains less than 35 per cent funded.

“Mozambique is at this critical junction, and Mozambican people need our support now. The world’s attention has moved on. We cannot let this happen.”