Massive flooding in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe

UNICEF bringing relief for children and families affected by Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth.

Mozambique. A child plays in an area that was flooded after Cyclone Idai made landfall.

Cyclone Idai left families in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe facing devastation, and hundreds of thousands of children across the three countries in need of urgent assistance. Six weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in Mozambique, bringing powerful winds and heavy rain. Many children lost their homes, schools, friends and loved ones.

Long road to recovery

Mozambique. A family stands by a destroyed house.
UNICEF/UN0308581/De Wet

Cyclones Idai and Kenneth displaced tens of thousands of families, leaving many in need of basic supplies like food and water. The two storms brought widespread flooding and the destruction of almost 780,000 hectares of agriculture crops.

Six months later, nearly 1 million people, including 160,000 children under five, in northern Mozambique were still facing food shortages and a nutrition crisis. 

“The impact of two cyclones hitting Mozambique in one season was devastating and unprecedented, however, it is only now that the residual effects of the disaster are really beginning to be felt,” said James McQuen-Patterson, Chief of Health and Nutrition, UNICEF Mozambique. 

What happened?

On 14 March, tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall at the port of Beira, Mozambique, before moving across the region. Millions of people in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have been affected by what is the worst natural disaster to hit southern Africa in at least two decades.

Six weeks later, Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in northern Mozambique – the first time in recorded history two strong tropical cyclones have hit the country in the same season. Devastation caused by the cyclones left around 1.85 million people in Mozambique alone in urgent need of humanitarian assistance – in healthcare, nutrition, protection, education, water and sanitation. 

What is UNICEF doing?

Getting medical supplies to displaced families

In Mozambique, UNICEF has provided vaccines to successfully immunize 900,000 people against cholera. Meanwhile, by 16 May, more than 700,000 children had been vaccinated against Polio, more than 650,000 children against Measles and Rubella, and nearly 700,000 children were screened for malnutrition and acute case referred for life-saving treatment.  

In Zimbabwe, UNICEF launched a cholera vaccination campaign in partnership with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care and WHO, to protect over 480,000 people. Meanwhile, more than 60,000 were vaccinated against measles during a catch-up campaign held in May. In Malawi, UNICEF-supported mobile clinics have provided healthcare to more than 30,000 people.

Mozambique. The vaccine for cholera is prepared at an accommodation for people displaced by Cyclone Idai.
The vaccine for cholera is prepared at an accommodation in Mozambique for people displaced by Cyclone Idai.
Providing access to safe water, sanitation and basic services

Without safe and effective water, sanitation and hygiene services, children are at high risk of preventable diseases including diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera, and also increasingly vulnerable to malnutrition. In Malawi, UNICEF and partners reached over 600,000 people with hygiene messages in displacement camps as well as surrounding communities through community radios, especially on cholera prevention.

More and more communities are returning to their devastated homes or are being resettled to safer areas where basic infrastructure and services need to be built from scratch. Many families have lost everything.

Mozambique. Water starts flowing from a pump at an accommodation centre for people displaced by Cyclone Idai.
Water starts flowing from a pump at an accommodation centre in Mozambique for people displaced by Cyclone Idai.
Ensuring access to education

Many schools and hospitals have been destroyed or damaged or are being used for shelter. Education is essential for helping children return to a sense of normalcy following a traumatic event, like a major cyclone, and for their long-term development and prospects. UNICEF and partners have therefore been distributing educations packs to children affected by the flooding. UNICEF has also been providing psychosocial support to affected children and reunifying unaccompanied and separated children.

In Malawi, UNICEF has continued to support ‘children’s corners’, which were established in priority sites internally displaced persons and some nearby communities, for psychosocial support, play and recreation. By the end of May, around 10,000 children were being reached on a weekly basis.

Mozambique. A child holds an education pack.
A child receives her education pack at a primary school in Beira, Mozambique.

Lives swept away

Zimbabwe. A girl sits in front of the remains of her home.

CHIMANIMANI, Zimbabwe – Prudence remembers the last time she saw her brother Proud. If it wasn’t for him she wouldn’t be here to talk about the devastating floodwaters that swept into her district of Chimanimani, near Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique, in March. But Proud lost his own life saving his sister’s.

“He lifted me up, until I found something to hold on to,” she says, her voice faltering. “But he got swept away.”

Prudence, 5, lost three siblings and a cousin that day. Just over a month later, she’s visiting a UNICEF-supported child friendly space near her old home. She generally stays close to the tent, sitting alone with a pensive look on her face. But from time to time she can be seen tagging along behind the social workers at the space.

Read Prudence's story

NSANJE, Malawi – “The water came in the middle of the night, Martha says. “I woke up to find water filling up the house. I was so scared, I thought we were going to die.”

“We could see dry land far out on the Malawian side, but on the Mozambique side the water stretched as far as we could see. So we decided to go to Malawi.” Unfortunately, the family did not have enough money for all three people. Martha’s husband, Timothy, made the courageous decision to send his wife and child to safety and stay behind himself.

“I haven’t seen or heard from him since,” Martha says. “I wish we were together now.”

Read Martha’s story

Malawi. A woman sits with a child.
UNICEF Malawi/2019/Amos Gumulira
Mozambique. Families displaced by flooding wait at a shelter.
UNICEF/Mozambique/2019/Javier Rodriguez

GONDOLA, Mozambique – “First it was the wind blowing hard. Then came the heavy rain,” says Angelina Paulo, a single mother of seven children. “All of a sudden, the roof came down over our heads.”

“We managed to get out alive and we ran to a neighbor’s house where we stayed until the storm passed. We went to find shelter in the nearby school before we were moved to this warehouse,” she says. “I’ve lost everything, my house and my crops.”

Angelina’s story is a familiar one among the families who have taken shelter in the Cafumpe accommodation in the district of Gondola, in the central province of Manica.

A mobile health team has been providing primary health care to those affected by the floods, especially women and children. Angelina says that her three-year-old son, António, had a fever and was diagnosed as suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and malaria.

Read Angelina’s story

How you can help

Right now, families in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe are facing devastation brought by Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth. UNICEF is moving quickly to respond to the impact of the cyclones. Children and their families need safe drinking water, health supplies and emergency shelter.