Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe in March 2019 affecting up to 2.6 million people. In Mozambique, some 1.85 million people have been affected and in Malawi around 900,000. Around 130,000 people have been displaced in Mozambique, and around 90,0000 in Malawi. The final toll of the cyclone will not be known for many months, perhaps ever. This was the worst cyclone to affect the area since February 2000 when the region was affected by three cyclone in just one month. This year’s cyclone season has been unusually active in the Indian Ocean, with seven intense cyclones so far this year, compared with three on average.

Cyclone Idai
Source: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

Some scientists suggest that climate change is making the extreme events such as Idai more frequent and more intense. Cyclone Idai brought storm surges of up to 6m, extreme rainfall and high wind speeds. There were also reports that some of the dams near the city of Beira were full, and overflowed. Satellite images from the European Space Agency show new inland ‘lakes’ up to 125 km by 25 km.

In some areas up to 95% of homes were obliterated. Some people described the scene as one of utter devastation and destruction. The risk of cholera and typhoid are high, as water pipelines were damaged.

Rescue teams struggled to reach affected people due to the size of the area affected. Thousands of people were stranded on roofs and in trees. Helicopters could only rescue small numbers of people at any given time. Aid groups helping include the Red Cross, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Food Programme. Rescuing people is the first priority, and then providing access to food, clean water, shelter and health care. Around the port city of Beira, in Mozambique, around 40 buildings, mainly school, were used to accommodate between 100 and 1000 people each. However, rescue organisations and aid organizations do not know how many people remain in the water – the area affected was one of the most densely population parts of Mozambique and there are hundreds of people not accounted for

Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe produce relatively small amounts of greenhouse gas emissions – it is ironic that they should be so badly affected by Cyclone Idai, whose intensity may be due, in part, to global climate change.