Church responds to deadly Cyclone Idai as death toll rises to over 700

 

By Kudakwashe Matambo

A week after deadly Cyclone Idai made landfall, it feels there is never a great time to respond to the call of being ‘Men and women for others’ than this. A time where thousands of people are hopeless, some uncertain of the whereabouts of their relatives, some grappling with the deaths of loved ones and many struggling to find food and medication. Not to mention being homeless. 

More than 700 people have been confirmed dead following the landfall of one of the deadliest cyclone to hit Southern Africa, affecting Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

The Intense tropical Cyclone Idai formed as a tropical depression off the coast of Mozambique on 4 March, and drifted inland to the Mozambique Channel before gaining strength and rose to category 4 when it was then named Cyclone Idai.

By the night of Thursday 14, the Cyclone had made a landfall in Mozambique characterized by heavy rains causing excessive flooding, very strong winds and excessive speeds which caused server damages. 

Although Cyclone Idai was unusual in that it formed in the Mozambique Channel, the intense tropical storm did not give enough time for the Southern Africa’s countries to issue warnings and act prior to its devastation. 

Deaths and missing people 

In Beira, the Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said the death toll rose from 242 to 417 and the number is expected to rise sharply as the water recedes and more bodies discovered as some places are still inaccessible. 

In the most hit city, Beira which has a population of about half a million, the country’s government estimates that some 400,000 are internally displaced, while a few thousand people by Friday 22 March were still waiting for rescue teams to help them to dry ground. 

In Zimbabwe, the death toll stands at 259 (as reported by United Nation’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), while Malawi has lost 56 people. 

Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Information and Publicity confirmed that as of 22 March, the Civil Protection Unit’s statistics, over 4 884 were completely displaced in Chimanimani with more than 187 being unaccounted for. 

The Church’s response

Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) Secretary General Fr Fradereck Chiromba, said so far the response to the appeal has been very good, people have mobilized good support for the victims. 

He said the Church in Zimbabwe has three levels of response to the challenges and confirmed that the Holy Father Pope Francis has supported Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique with 50 000 each. 

For immediate responses, the Church through the coordination of Caritas has already began distributing aid to the victims in the affected areas. 

 

“So far the response to the appeal has been very good, people have mobilized good support for the victims. We are still waiting to get more information from Caritas Mutare Diocese on the method they are following on actual distribution and the assessment of the needs.”

 

He added that the Church is looking at the responses on short and long term recovery. 

 

“We have three levels of response, the immediate which has already started but we are also looking at the middle and long term recovery of the communities. So far are satisfied with the levels of the response.”

 

“Moving forward there is a need for long term recovery, many people lost their lives and people have nowhere to live so there will be a lot of reconstruction to be done in terms of housing, providing shelter to the families so we encourage the support to continue coming.”

 

In the long run, Fr Chiromba said it will be important to provide Pyscho-Social support to the affected people. 

“I know last Saturday (23 March), already there were over 40 volunteers who had already come forward to offer Pyscho-social support particularly to the students of St. Charles Lwanga at the Dominican Convent School in Harare.”

 

“So as this support comes in for recovery, Pyscho-social support needs to be part of the program to help people recover and we must offer that to the communities in Chimanimani and Chipinge,” said Fr Chiromba. 

 

Fr Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator SJ, the President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar has also offered his support and condolences to theh bereaved families.

“My thoughts are with the hundreds of thousands in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi who have been affected by Cyclone Idai over the past week. The devastation this storm has caused deserves the attention and support to rebuild. I’m encouraged by the level of humanitarian assistance to the affected countries” read Fr Orobator’s statement.

“The Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar join the rest of Africa and the world in mourning the loss, interruption and destruction of lives and livelihoods caused by Cyclone Idai. The scale of devastation it caused is enormous. The real devastation, however, is the lives that have been lost.”

Narrating his experiences, Raul Chacuamba, a Catholic youth in Beira said the situation is not good, it is critical. 

“The situation is not good. Many people are still with no food and water and it’s dangerous. It will take some time to rebuild and return to normalcy,” he narrated in a shaken voice. 

 

“Our Churches have been greatly damaged, in one parish a big wall came down and broke all the benches, the church is now totally destroyed. At our parish in Matacuane, a very big tree which we used to decorate during Christmas fell down and the Church is damaged.”

The Jesuits in Zimbabwe-Mozambique province has activated its Jesuit Relief Fund to allow all individuals and corporates willing to help by donating food aid, clothing and financial resources for the help of victims in Zimbabwe and Mozambique (see details on poster below). 

Whilst several churches and properties are not severely damaged in Manicaland, Fr Shepherd Munaro, the Bishop’s Secretary in Mutare Diocese, said the Diocese’ focus right now is 

“The situation is terrible, some people are walking more than 5km every day to where they are being given some supplies such as where they are walking to Skyline. The people are really in shock and pretty much shaken. They do not know where they will go from this point onwards.,” he added.

“Their water bodies from what I am seeing are now contaminated because most of them relied on water from the mountains and now their pipes were destroyed by the storm so we are working on helping them to put on some water pipes.”

“In these trying times let us keep each other in prayer, the people here need prayers they need to be given new hope that this is not the end of the world and that God still loves them,” pleaded Fr Munaro. 

Destruction of property 

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reported that more than 90% of Beira was destroyed and IFRC Secretary General, Elhadj As Sy, said ‘Tens of thousands of families have lost everything. Children have lost parents. Communities have lost schools and clinics.’

“Tragically, we know that the full picture of this disaster is probably even worse than it seems now. The death toll will probably rise further as more and more areas are reached and as more and more bodies are recovered,” said Mr Sy, in an IFRC press statement. 

The IFRC reported that 90% of Beira was destroyed as the number of people affected in the three countries is estimated to reach 2 million. 

The Archdiocese of Beira posted on its Facebook page that ‘Twenty-two parishes were damaged; 3 collapsed totally and 60 small chapels were damaged and that the archbishop's residence and offices have been significantly damaged.

 
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