‘A humanitarian catastrophe of our times’ – Bishop Carlos Matsinhe reports on Cyclone Idai

A scene in Beira, Sofala Province in Mozambique after Cyclone Idai. (Photo by Josh Estey/CARE)

The coastal city of Beira, which lies in the middle of the devastation and flooding wrought by Cyclone Idai, was cut off from the rest of the Diocese of Lebombo in Mozambique for days after the cyclone hit.

“There was no communication at all and we did not know who from our congregation might have survived the storm,” said the Bishop of Lebombo, the Right Revd Carlos Matsinhe, in a report on the situation sent on March 22.

A few days after the Beira airport reopened, he was able to get a flight there. He found that the Diocese’s new church in Beira had been collapsed by the cyclone. 

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His report continued: “I saw also churches of other denominations that have also been destroyed in town except our little chapel at Munhava, which was, of course, the refuge of many people living around it.

“I visited the Rector, Archdeacon and his family whom I found busy repairing and cleaning their house. I visited five homesteads to meet the church wardens and a few Christians in order to inform them of our prayers and solidarity at this critical moment.”

At a centre hosting 600 displaced people in classrooms, he found shortages of food and water and a lack of hygiene.

He also managed to speak to the governor of Sofala Province, within which the devastated area falls, who appealed for prayers and support.

Of parishes in other areas, Bishop Carlos wrote:

“In the other districts that have been affected we have no information about the safety of our members because these districts remain isolated without any kind of communication.

“We know Fr. Araujo and his family at St. Mary Mutua in Dondo is well but his house and church were partially damaged. We do not know anything about Father Domingos Chipuazo at All Saints of Nhamatanda.

“What we imagine is that since most of our outstation churches are made of local bricks and mud and roofed either with grass or zinc sheets, like the houses of the population they will have been destroyed.

“In Chimoio, one of our concrete church buildings, the Holy Family Church, is one of the accommodation centres. Around this church 58 houses were destroyed and 48 families found accommodation in the church. I hope to provide more data about the stae of our churches and communities as soon as we have them.

Further excerpts from Bishop Carlos’s report:

The general picture is that of a devastated and destroyed city. It is estimated that 95% of the buildings were damaged, with roofs blown out. The roads were blocked by broken or uprooted big trees. One could see piled rubble and scattered roofing tins everywhere and most of the houses I entered were dripping water…

The electricity grid has been pulled down by the cyclone and there is no running water. The population survives either by collected rain water or by water from open sky collection wells which can easily be contaminated. The sewerage system is not secure because the water level is up or above the surface. Human waste is likely to contaminate those sources of water and cause diarrhoea and cholera or other similar diseases that can be deadly at this time of human crisis that region.

The destruction has also taken place in the countryside hit by the cyclone in the provinces of Sofala, Manica and part of Tete.

Up to yesterday there was not sufficient food and medical supplies in town (Beira). Many shops have not opened since after the damage by the cyclone. The shops… that are open are selling food and other necessities that had been in stock before the cyclone. Shopkeepers have started to increase the prices of commodities.

Since the main road connecting Beira to the rest of the country is cut off in four sections over the Pungue River and trucks with emergency and general supplies cannot reach Beira, currently supplies are to being airlifted. Nevertheless much is being done to re-establish connections between the city and the inland area. There are hopes of a ship bringing rice to reach the Beira port any day soon.

A humanitarian catastrophe of our times

As all should know, this Cyclone Idai is rated as the strongest and most devastating climate disaster even seen in the southern hemisphere. This should tell you how dreadful its effects have been. And it will take many years to recover from its long-term impact in human and economic life of the region.

Official records given as per 21st March indicates 242 deaths in the affected region and the State President, speaking during his visit to Beira, said that the toll may reach 1000 or more as the number increases day after day with more people found as rescue operations reach new places.

The number of those affected needing immediate emergency assistance in the whole of Sofala and Manica provinces is 180.000 as per March 21. Following the city of Beira, other districts such as Dondo, Buzi, Nhamatanda, Gorongoza, Marromeu, Caia, Chemba, Machanga and Chibavava are also affected by the overflowing of rivers in those areas and it is feared that more people might die if the dams are opened since they are receiving a lot of water from the rainfall in neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Six South African helicopters are assisting in rescuing the people of Buzi found on trees, rooftops and other higher places. No one has a count of who has already died in districts under water.

Rescuers bring new stories of how terrible and bleak the situation is. Television images show that we stand in front of a far-reaching human crisis.

Last minute news indicates the Beira Hospital has been closed because of the state of destruction and the lack of basic conditions. Tents from which to run health services are to be built around the hospital – this tells you how terrible the conditions are and may be.

[Adding to the crisis] the Province of Zambezia (which is part of the Diocese of Niassa for Anglicans) has been under floods along the rivers even before the Beira cyclone.

This cyclone has equally affected Zimbabwe and Malawi badly where many people were also killed (so far 139 for Zimbabwe and 56 for Malawi).

Post- Emergency Plan

From contacts with other institutions and NGOs, I am convinced that in a few days there will be enough food supply for the emergency, although we do not know how long the emergency will last. Internal solidarity is growing as is the international one. But more than supplies is the need for service capacity. I have noted in Beira that the health sector has pulled together health workers from different provinces to come and help. Also a number of national and international NGOs are building joint efforts to respond to the crisis.

At this point it is important to think and plan for the post- emergency phase.

Our Response as Anglicans

  1. Join efforts with other institutions for a stronger response
  2. Local Anglicans are collecting food aid from individual church members (the first lot was shipped today comprising 1,3 tons of rice, 1,07 tons of maize meal, sugar, soap and clothes)
  3. Donate funds to rebuild destroyed church buildings as these are central to community life
  4. Donate funds to provide school materials, uniforms, shoes and blankets for affected school children
  5. Provide basic domestic utensils for affected families
  6. Donate funds to rebuild destroyed classrooms
  7. Donate funds to treat or provide clean water for affected communities
  8. Donate funds for health protection (mosquito nets, repellents), apply preventive measures.
  9. Donate funds rebuild rural health units destroyed
  10. Donate funds for tools and seeds for food production
  11. Donate funds for reposition of livestock.

To help our Mozambican sisters and brothers, donate generously to ACSA’s Disaster Relief Fund, details of which can be found at this link>>

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