Q&A: NGO director stresses need to rebuild a more resilient Mozambique

Destruction following Cyclone Kenneth in the Nhamatanda District, Sofala Province, Mozambique. Photo by: Ricardo Franco and ADPP Mozambique.

BARCELONA — Organizations providing aid in cyclone-hit Mozambique must quickly pivot toward strengthening resilience if the country is to recover and withstand future disaster, said Birgit Holm, director at ADPP Mozambique, an education and health-focused nonprofit.

Without increased funding, support, and longer-term thinking, the country will remain vulnerable, as it was for this latest round of storms, Holm said.

“We have to make sure that in the future there is more preparedness, better communication, and better ways of ensuring that everybody knows what to do,” she said, adding that schools, most health facilities, and agriculture have been partly or totally destroyed in certain regions.

On March 14, Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique as well as Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing over 800 people and affecting a further 1.8 million. Cyclone Kenneth — the strongest storm on the country’s record — then brought further destruction on April 25, which affected 160,000 Mozambicans.

Combined, the two cyclones have been unprecedented and caused major destruction across much of the country, leaving many without food, shelter, and clean water. With more rain expected, additional flooding could mean the number of people in need of support will increase.

“This is a huge challenge for a country that is already very poor,” said Holm, speaking from Mozambique where ADPP regularly runs programs focused on HIV, energy, and education, and is currently supporting aid distribution efforts.

The government, alongside the United Nations, European Union, and World Bank, is working to conduct a post-disaster needs assessment and formulate a national post-disaster recovery strategy.

Despite a presence from numerous relief organizations — Caritas, UNICEF, CARE, the Red Cross — Holm says not enough is being done and more emphasis on development and what it will take to rebuild the country beyond immediate support is vital.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about the situation on the ground and about the current aid and relief efforts?

It's not enough. I would say there was a lot of relief effort in the beginning, but definitely not enough. The government is foreseeing that the building up and rehabilitating of the areas will take up to five years because there's just so much that’s been affected. Some of it is the pretty big destruction of buildings, roads, and bridges so it will take a long time. There will be a need for much more funding and support

There are many challenges we’re facing, but one thing for sure is that there are so many people in need and it’s difficult to decide who you can help and who you cannot, because everybody needs help.

Beyond initial aid, what do you think it's going to take to rebuild the country?

It will take a lot including immediate support as well as the reconstruction of schools, clinics, other infrastructure, roads, bridges. And then, of course, there’s the whole part about how people get their livelihoods up and running again, which is even more urgent because they need to live.

“With climate change, disasters of this kind will only increase, so we have to look at how buildings can be better built, how farmers can learn new techniques … , and how can health workers and school teachers be better prepared for such situations.”

— Birgit Holm, director, ADPP Mozambique

[People] can't live from food handouts for a very long time. People need seeds and tools, and some of the small businesses need help to get started again. All this is really necessary for Mozambique to come back to what it was before.

It's also getting the children to school because a lot of children lost their schools so even though many of them are being taught, it's in very precarious conditions. There's also a need for psychosocial help.

Destruction following Cyclone Kenneth in the Nhamatanda District, Sofala Province, Mozambique. Photo by: Ricardo Franco and ADPP Mozambique.

And with so many things that need to happen and be put in place, what are the initial steps that development and aid organizations should take?

The very first needs were definitely shelter, food, hygiene, and health so the government worked quite quickly with the help of international organizations. They gave immunization against cholera and worked to get out mosquito nets to everybody — things like that can prevent bigger epidemics and really, in terms of the cholera, they have been successful in preventing deaths.

Malaria is the next problem ... because soon after such flooding, mosquitoes will start breeding. So health, getting children into school, and then quickly rebuilding schools and health clinics are some basic needs that need attending to.

People were really not prepared at all even though there was notice beforehand that a cyclone was coming. But in a country like Mozambique, where there's many remote areas and people don't have televisions, and radios are not all over, many didn’t know what was happening.

The size of the disaster was difficult to prepare for because nobody knew it would be so enormous.

How can the wider development community help to address these challenges?

In such a big disaster, it will be important for international development organizations both to give money, but also to look at longer-term solutions — not the here and now. For example, how to improve the housing and how to improve buildings like schools and clinics so that they can last because this is not going to be the last time we see something like this.

We know that with climate change, disasters of this kind will only increase, so we have to look at how buildings can be better built, how farmers can learn new techniques so they are more secure, and how can health workers and school teachers be better prepared for such situations.

All these things have to happen and it's the Mozambican government and local people who must work on all this, but we really need the international community to support that.

One of the things we saw, in the beginning, was that it was very much the international organizations coming and doing a lot and not involving the local organizations. There's a need to make sure that local organizations who know the people on the ground and the conditions and are trained are given capacity to deal with these situations.

About the author

  • Rebecca root%2520%25281%2529

    Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.