By Linda Bordoni
Cyclone Idai made landfall in southeast Africa on March 14, ripping roofs off buildings, pulling down electricity pylons, uprooting trees, and bringing heavy rains and floods that swamped cities and rural areas.
In Mozambique, more than 600 people died, as well as nearly 200 in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Since the disaster struck, the regionally-vital port city of Beira, 90% of which was damaged or destroyed, has functioned as a base for logistics and relief efforts coming in from across the world.
Gavin van der Burgh, Chief Commercial Officer of a fishing company with extensive operations in Beira, said that thanks to the company’s desalination plant many more people in the city are being provided with clean, potable water: a fundamental ally in the fight against water-borne diseases such as cholera.
Van der Burgh said that three weeks after the cyclone hit Beira, the population has picked itself up. The people, he explained, have cleaned the streets and cleared the debris and the government has restored electricity to some parts of the city.
There continues to be, however, an urgent need for medical supplies.
Van der Burgh said the city is also experiencing complications as many of the displaced people from the swamped flood plains have been flown in by aid agencies and have received emergency assistance in food and clothes.
But many, he added, are unable to get back to the rural areas: “they are living on the streets, and that is causing the water-borne diseases like cholera”.
His own Company, van der Burgh explained, has been able to provide precious assistance thanks to a desalination plant that manufactures 55,000 litres of clean water a day.
He said this has lifted a tangible burden from the shoulders of relief agencies that were trucking or airlifting water from other cities.
Van der Burgh also spoke of the incredible solidarity that has been pouring into the country.
He said that when the cyclone hit, all communication with the outside world was lost, and the international community did not realise the scale of the devastation until 72 hours after the disaster.
He also spoke of how he felt humbled when, soon after the scale of the devastation started to be picked up by the international news networks, his Company’s international clients responded with incredible generosity.
“One restaurant chain in the US has donated 5,000 pairs of flip-flops” he said, pointing out that “one doesn’t tend to think of that as a great necessity but in a hot, port-city like Beira, that’s what most people wear, and we are talking about people who have lost everything – homes, clothes, everything: so 5,000 pairs of flip-flops donated is actually putting something on the feet of those people”.
Aid needs to reach the right people
Van der Burgh described the scene that met his eyes when he reached Beira on the Monday following the disaster, where the airport, he said, was a real hive of activity filled with cargo planes bringing in tones of aid to the population.
“My hope” he said, “is to see that the aid that has been donated, that has come in from international aid agencies, reaches the right people, the needy people”.
Another hope he said, is that the lesson is learnt that particularly in poor countries, where there are large rural communities, an early warning system can be put into place so that people are given the chance to be prepared for these kinds of natural disasters.