On the brink of an epidemic: New crisis looming in Mozambique

First published by News.com.au on 30 March, 2019.
By Shelby Stapleton 

Imagine waking up in Melbourne to the news that Sydney had been destroyed. That’s what it was like for me in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, last week.

It started as a storm. It became a giant flood. Then the storm went out to sea and turned into a cyclone that returned with deadly force.

Beira is our fourth largest city. It is now destroyed, unrecognisable. A week on and the flood waters continue to rise, roads crumble and bridges fall. In some areas there is water as far as the eye can see. The government can’t repair or restore access until the waters recede.

For days, people were stuck in trees waiting for help. The stories survivors tell are horrendous.

At this point we still don’t have a complete picture of the size of the impact. There are registered children we haven’t been able to contact. Staff we haven’t been able to reach.

It’s impossible to measure the extent of the damage because we haven’t been able to get out to all the communities.

Fuel and drinking water are scarce. There are families who can’t find their loved ones. There are horrendous stories and images of bodies floating and piling up. There simply aren’t the resources to access or collect them. We can’t even count them.

Now there is a second catastrophe looming. Flooding brings with it an increased risk of infection. There is an imminent risk of waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera.

Our field team is sleeping on the floor of the office. Nobody is untouched. Many of my friends can’t find their loved ones. Everyone is concerned about diseases.

Despite the challenges, staff and volunteers are resilient. A huge response effort is being prepared. We are flying in emergency specialists from around the world. Trying to find funding from every source possible. Mounting a huge logistic mission to get the right supplies into the country.

Every morning I attend United Nations Office for the co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) meetings to hear about the latest devastation.

Mozambique is a poor country — out of 188 countries on the human development index, it is ranked 180. Homes are often built of bricks and straw.


In the short term we need to provide humanitarian assistance and shelter to hundreds of thousands of families who now have nothing.

We need to provide people with tents and water purification tablets and food. We need to ensure they have psychosocial support; trauma after such a horrific experience is debilitating.

Long term, we must help people recover their livelihood. Many of the affected are farmers so this work will include small scale agriculture activities.

We need to repair schools and healthcare centres and build them to better withstand future disasters.

You can help by donating World Vision’s Cyclone Idai appeal, or by sponsoring a vulnerable child.

Mozambique is on nobody’s international agenda and World Vision is working with its government to reach the most vulnerable.

There are millions of people in need here. Please, don’t forget us.

Shelby Stapleton is a senior program officer for World Vision Australia

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