The impact of Cyclone Idai on Mozambique

On March 14, Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, causing extensive flooding, destruction of infrastructure, and the deaths of hundreds of people. The cyclone especially damaged Mozambique and its port of Beira, the country’s fourth-largest city and commercial hub for the central region. The city was 90% devastated, with infrastructural challenges such as neglect of buildings and roads laid bare in the storm’s aftermath. The situation has only been exacerbated by the onset of a cholera outbreak, which has infected 2,430 people as of April 5 according to the Mozambique Ministry of Health. For the southern African nation’s short-term outlook, domestic and international actors are necessary for response and recovery efforts. However, in a world where developing nations similar to Mozambique are increasingly vulnerable to intensifying natural disasters, there are massive implications for the next few decades. Lessons must be learned to mitigate the effects of future catastrophes.

Domestically and internationally, response and recovery efforts have begun in earnest, with the Red Cross attempting to preempt damage from flooding by pinpointing several thousand people who they believed to be in danger. However, the Red Cross could not have anticipated the scale on which Idai devastated Mozambique. Within the country itself, camps have been arranged by the government and humanitarian groups in order to accommodate those displaced citizens. In response to the cholera outbreak, on March 29, President Filipe Nyusi announced that his government is halting payment of all health care fees to alleviate the burden on affected persons, while also organizing a vaccination campaign against the disease. Nyusi’s plan also includes the distribution of agricultural materials to farmers, a reduction in prices for train passengers on certain lines, and provision on books for students. While response and recovery efforts of international relief groups and the federal government has been commendable, the element of long-term planning is missing from recovery and response strategy. It is that very detail from which all of the issues concerning disaster preparation and response stem from and it will matter more in the years to come.

After such a devastating disaster, the future of Mozambique is uncertain, with the conversation now shifting to the implementation of better preparation strategies related to recovery and response to mitigate the effects of future disasters. A proposed strategy for the future would be to create a regional organization of Southern African nations serving as a vehicle to pool humanitarian, financial, and logistical resources so as to better prepare citizens for natural disasters. In turn, they would be better equipped to weather those challenges. Other strategies include using multilateral institutions to alter the incentives for acting early on disaster preparedness and response, developing strong social protections for the disadvantaged to fall back on in such events, and making long-term infrastructure investments in order to prevent a repeat of the situation in Beira. Overall, it will require a multifaceted approach from domestic and international actors to improve the situation in Mozambique, but it is an approach that can be applied to similarly vulnerable countries around the world.

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Author: Raj Rao

Raj Rao is a staff writer at The Compass. He is a freshman in the Elliott School majoring in international affairs. Outside of writing for the Compass, he is a member of Roosevelt Institute at GW.