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Mozambique: One year after Cyclone Idai, humanitarian assistance is still urgent

14 Mar 2020

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One year on since Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, leaving over 1.8 million people in dire need of assistance, OCHA’s Saviano Abreu met Hortencia, one of the first survivors he talked to just after the disaster. Living in the Mandruzi resettlement site, in Dondo, she is a clear example of how humanitarian assistance made it possible for thousands of people to put food on the table and survive.

Almost one year ago, just few days after Cyclone Idai ripped into central Mozambique, I met Hortencia in one of the overcrowded schools where people who lost their houses were seeking refuge. Her smile and kindness contrasted with the horrific images of destruction I was seeing everywhere. At this point, we didn’t know the full extent of the damage, but it was already clear that hundreds of thousands of survivors would be depending on humanitarian aid to survive.

Hortencia was one of them. The single young mother-of-three had lost everything and had no means to go back to her small trade business or reconstruct her life without support. Cyclone Idai affected extremely vulnerable people, in one of the poorest countries in the world, making the recovery process a real challenge.

During this last year, humanitarian assistance has truly been the only resort many people could rely on to survive. Speaking to Hortencia couple of weeks ago, made me realize why humanitarian assistance is still so needed in Mozambique.

Hortencia and her children have had food on their table every day, as did more than 1.8 million people who received food assistance over the last year. If food assistance stops now, she has no other option to feed her children. Hortencia is growing some vegetables in the small garden she has on the resettlement where her family lives. But the last rainy season hit Mozambique hard with heavy rains and flooding, which destroyed part of her produce. Just like her, nearly 2 million people across Mozambique are severely food insecure, and without assistance, they would go to bed hungry every single night.

Hortencia’s three kids are going to school, and just like more than 322,000 other children, they received crucial support to prevent dropouts, including learning materials. Hortencia’s sons are lucky to have public schools very close to the resettlement site.  This is not the reality for a quarter of the 30,000 children displaced by Idai, who walk for more than one hour to attend school. In addition, hundreds of thousands of children are still learning in temporary learning spaces or in schools without roofs, as most of the 4,200 classrooms damaged by the cyclone are yet to be repaired. If temporary learning spaces were closed now, education would probably be stopped for these children.

 

The whole family has been treated for malaria and received vaccines against cholera and measles. Disease outbreaks in Mozambique spiked after the cyclone, just when the health system was nearly collapsing with the destruction of 100 health centres, medical equipment and essential medicine. The last time I’d met with Hortencia, all three of her kids had malaria. Without any health centre nearby–and no resources to travel long distances–humanitarian organizations were her only option. Medical treatments in the resettlement sites and mobile clinics, and vaccination campaigns reaching 850,000 people for cholera and 670,000 for measles, have minimized the impact of the cyclone on health. But one year on, clinics are still not functioning and the public health system is unable to cover the needs of the population. Without humanitarian health services, Hortencia and her children wouldn’t have been treated.

Hortencia’s shelter was destroyed during the last rains, just like the tents of more than 4,000 families living in resettlement sites. Without funding, humanitarian partners are not able to replace the destroyed shelters. Hortencia is now sleeping in the tent of a neighbour, and it broke my heart to see her in this situation again, one year after Idai. Although a tent is not a sustainable housing solution, this is still the only alternative for more than 90,000 people in the resettlement sites while reconstruction efforts remain under-funded. In total, more than 146,000 families received temporary shelters. But the reality is that more support is urgently needed to make sure homeless families have dignified housing conditions. 

All in all, I was happy to see that Hortencia and her kids have had at least their basic needs covered so far. Water and hygiene products have also been provided and women and children safe spaces in the camp give them some support to recover from trauma and fight for a better life. But I couldn’t help but notice her deterioration during the last year. Hortencia is tired, and we cannot leave her alone now.

And what worries me the most is to see that despite Hortencia high needs and dependence on humanitarian aid, organizations in Mozambique are being forced to scale down their response. Most have exhausted the funds and stocks will be depleted very soon. WFP, for example, suspended the vital food assistance for half a million people in the areas affected by Idai, just when the needs are the greatest since the cyclone. People of Mozambique still need support. And funding is nothing less than absolutely urgent.