A Look Back: Mozambique Cyclones
One year ago, two powerful back-to-back tropical cyclones made landfall in Mozambique. The effects were devastating: hundreds of people killed, neighborhoods and crops destroyed, and more than two million people in need of aid. We take a look back on the pivotal moments of USAID’s disaster response with the people who worked on the front lines, and introduce you to one family who did not let Mother Nature defeat them.
On March 15, 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai — the worst natural disaster to hit southern Africa in two decades — made landfall in Mozambique, producing torrential rains, strong winds, and deadly flooding. Five weeks later, when most people thought the worst was over, Cyclone Kenneth struck.
The destruction spanned hundreds of miles, from Beira in central Mozambique up to Pemba, near the border with Tanzania.
USAID Hits the Ground Running
On March 20, USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Mozambique to lead the U.S. Government’s response efforts. This elite team comprised 17 members at its height, and included disaster experts in the fields of health, water, sanitation, food security, and logistics.
Olivia Nesbit had just deployed to Nigeria as an Information Officer to serve on USAID’s Nigeria humanitarian team when Cyclone Idai hit.
“I packed my bags and was on a plane to Mozambique within 24 hours. In Mozambique, the team worked upwards of 17 hours a day, even on weekends. My experience on the DART showed me how resilient people are. With support from us and our partners, people quickly began reconstructing their homes and livelihoods. The long days were absolutely worth it after seeing community members receiving much-needed food, blankets, and shelter supplies.”
- Olivia Nesbit, USAID Mozambique DART Information Officer
Sureka Khandagle, who has been with USAID since 1997, led the DART. Under her leadership, USAID worked with its UN and NGO partners to deliver emergency food assistance, shelter supplies, water storage and treatment
units, kitchen sets, blankets, and latrines to help improve sanitary conditions and prevent the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera.
“Its hard to comprehend the scale of a natural disaster like Cyclone Idai until you are on the ground and see for yourself how it has affected people’s lives. Helping those whose lives have been impacted by disasters is why I love what I do. The people are why we are here.”
- Sureka Khandagle, USAID Mozambique DART Leader
Airlifting Aid to Affected Communities
The storms took everything from so many people. Providing critical relief supplies as quickly as possible was a priority for this response.
Because the storms washed out roads and bridges, the DART knew it had to take to the skies to get aid to communities cut off by the storm. To do this, the DART chartered eight planes to bring in supplies from our warehouses in Pisa and Dubai to Beira.
USAID also requested the unique capabilities of the U.S. Department of Defense’s, through U.S. Africa Command’s Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), to provide airlift and logistics support.
The U.S. military deployed more than 100 personnel to support USAID’s response, and during its 2-week mission, airlifted more than 782 tons relief supplies on C-17 and C-130 cargo planes. The U.S. military also provided forklifts and other cargo handling equipment to offload the critical aid as quickly as possible.
“The airport got overwhelmed early on. Literally, it felt like a beehive there were so many aircraft coming in and out. We were able to work with our partners, other humanitarian organizations, as well as the U.S. military to set up a system to offload these aircraft at lightning speed and get the cargo to the staging areas where they would get picked up for distribution by our partners.
We also used the military to create an ‘air bridge’ to move the cargo from Maputo to Beira. What would have taken three days to move on truck we were able to get there in a matter of hours. Logistically, this response was quite complex, but with good communication and coordination, it went really well.”
- Bob Demeranville, USAID Mozambique DART Logistics Officer
One Year Later: “Life begins where there is hope”
Rosa’s family lost everything when Cyclone Idai hit.
“The cement house we lived in collapsed. The vegetable stand I rented was destroyed. Nothing could be recovered. I did not know how to get myself up again.”
This April will mark one year since Rosa and her children moved to their new home in Sofala province in central Mozambique.
There, she received a shelter kit — provided by USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance through its partner IOM Mozambique — which included a tarpaulin, toolkit, wooden poles and bamboo. Rosa used the tools and other materials to build her new home, piece by piece. She also started a small business where she sells the vegetables that she can now grow herself, because she has space to garden.
“Life begins where there is hope,” Rosa said. “The situation is not easy, but life holds promise here. The children are all with me and they are happy. I work hard to support them.”
Read more about USAID’s humanitarian response to Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth. For ways to help people affected by the disaster, visit USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information.