Beira resembles a city at war after Cyclone Idai

By Stewart Muchapera in Beira, Mozambique
Cyclone survivors wading in flod waters in Beira Mozambique
Contaminated flood waters in Beira, Mozambique, present a significant risk for water-borne diseases. Oxfam and our partners are assessing the needs of survivors so we can provide latrines, clean water, and hygiene items like soap to help avoid outbreaks of disease. Sergio Zimba / Oxfam

Mozambique’s 4th largest city is 90 percent under water and survivors need clean water and shelter

As the plane begins its descent into Beira, I get my first glimpse of the damage inflicted by Cyclone Idai. I knew Beira had been hit hard – that 90 percent of the city was still under water - yet nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

Beira resembles a city at war: homes have been razed to the ground as if bombed from the air; some are submerged in water; roofs have been blown away; trees uprooted, and fields and crops flooded.

The airport is the only place in Beira with functional telecommunications so the United Nations and many international aid agencies have made it their base – and this is where I will be living for the coming days. Much of the building resembles a war room: maps cover the walls and everywhere; men and women are huddled together trying to work out how to get aid out to people in desperate need. There is the constant noise of helicopters and planes taking off with emergency supplies for areas in the city and beyond that are only accessible by air.

Oxfam is working with a local partner organization, AJOAGO, to organize a helicopter to distribute family kits to communities in Buzi, one of the worst hit areas of the city where families are reported to be living on the rooftops of flooded houses. Each kit contains blankets, a bucket, mosquito nets, a jerry can, spoons and clothing. The hope is these kits will help prevent the spread of deadly diseases such as cholera and malaria.

“We lost everything”

While we are waiting for the flight, I head for Dondo, about 30 kilometers outside Beira, where a camp has been set up for displaced people. Armed with a notebook and a camera, I spend the afternoon listening to inspirational men and women who, despite losing everything, still wear a smile on the weary faces.

Oxfam is working with a consortium of aid groups to assist 500,000 people in Mozambique, Malawi, and Mozambique following Cyclone Idai. Sergio Zimba / Oxfam

“There is nothing we could have done - we were in its path. We lost everything - our homes, blankets and food. We are waiting for the rains to subside so that we can go home and rebuild,” said Jacinta Verisha, a mother of four who lost her home and is now living in a tent donated by COSACA, a consortium of aid agencies including Oxfam, Care, and Save the Children.

As I bid farewell to Jacinta l wonder how long she will have to stay in the camp. Will she and her family make it home? Will her kids get back to school? Will they survive the outbreaks of disease such as malaria or cholera that so often strike in the aftermath of major disasters? How many people like Jacinta will I meet? How many more people will have their lives turned upside down as climate change brings more frequent and more destructive weather to our continent?

What I do know is that Oxfam, and its supporters across the globe, will make a huge difference to people like Jacinta - providing emergency assistance such as clean water and shelter to people who desperately need help now and helping people rebuild their communities, and their lives, in the months and years ahead.

I signed up to work at Oxfam to help save lives – being here in Beira is a stark reminder of that.

Stewart Muchapera is Oxfam’s media and communications lead.

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