Dr. Oliver Hoffmann is public health advisor for Johanniter International Assistance and a joint Sphere Focal Point for Germany. After Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, he carried out an assessment to investigate the aid needs of the affected people. Hoffmann warns that the destroyed harvests will put people's food at risk in the coming months.
Dr. Hoffmann, you have returned from a week-long stay in the disaster region of Mozambique. What is the situation on the ground?
I arrived in Beira a week after the cyclone. My approach was at night and I saw only five illuminated streets. As I approached, I noticed that they were car lights. Those were the only roads that could be driven on in this big city. The electricity and water supply didn't work for many days and the damages were immense.
And what about the countryside?
We were the first organisation to reach the rural hospital in Nhamatanda. Eight of the 18 treatment rooms were without a roof, but the staff kept the operation halfway going. Due to the bottleneck, there were many outpatients who had to wait a long time. Most had diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory diseases. A week and a half after the storm, around 40,000 inhabitants had still not been reached. We did this assessment jointly with ASB and published our findings immediately after return publically so that other organisations could benefit from it and would not need to do their own assessments.
Which area was most affected by cyclone Idai?
A day later we had the chance to go by helicopter to the Buzi region. There some areas are deserted, in many places the water is still standing and many trees are bent over. In the district Guara-Guara we collected information. There, 3,000 displaced people had joined the 17,000 inhabitants because they had lost their homes. When we talked to the community leader, a new group on trailers and tractors arrived in the village.
How are people dealing with the situation?
It was very positive to me that the people were working to improve their own situation. No one waited for external help, you could see that every day. The streets in Beira became cleaner every day, water points were usable again. When I visited the country's second largest hospital in Beira immediately after my arrival, the staff, with the help of the military, tried to remove the bent trees and repaired the damage in the hospital. Many wards were closed there. On the other hand, of course, there is grief. I have seen trucks with coffins and the number of dead is high. But in general, you can feel the attitude that people are getting on with things and getting up again.
What is the coordination on the ground between aid organisations, government and authorities?
Almost all have offices or contact points at Beira airport that meet regularly to exchange information and coordinate activities. This works well. Especially in the field of emergency medicine, the government is heavily involved in decision-making. This is good because it is ultimately responsible for its population. There is close cooperation.
The assessment team collected information about the immediate needs. What is the next step?
The needs are currently being analysed and proposals for immediate assistance by Johanniter are written and funds provided. Our recommendations range from repair damaged shelters, send water treatment equipment to the deployment of our certified emergency medical team (EMT). I think that we as Johanniter can offer medical care with tents to support or replace health stations when they are out of order. This is currently being prepared. The reconstruction of such health facilities will certainly need to be planned afterwards.
What do you expect for the coming weeks and months?
In addition to diseases in the health sector, food security will undoubtedly become a major problem. The harvests were destroyed by the water. In recent years Mozambique and neighbouring countries had already experienced droughts, which is why the stores were certainly not full. And what was there has now been destroyed by water. It will be a challenge. In addition, the infrastructure must be built up on a large scale. The basic structures are still in place in many places, but roofs in particular have been destroyed. The number of camps for displaced people has risen rapidly. Reconstruction must be organised so that people can return at some point.
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