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Cyclone Idai’s gone, but Mozambique’s problems demand action — now

The World Food Programme' s support for hard-hit communities working towards self-reliance requires urgent investment
, World Food Programme
A WFP-supported community farm in Mafambisse — one year after the cyclone, women are at the centre of efforts to rebuild livelihoods. Photo: WFP/Déborah Nguyen

A year after Cyclone Idai devastated much of central Mozambique, the limited scope of humanitarian assistance for reconstruction and resilience against further climate shocks is stalling the progress of communities seeking to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

As the plane lands at Beira airport, a profusion of memories returns. They are vivid, as if everything happened just yesterday — in March 2019, I was deployed 48 hours after the cyclone hit Beira to report on the humanitarian situation.

The tarmac seems abnormally quiet — without the noise of the rescue helicopters and transport planes that brought assistance to cyclone victims.

Elisa's community suffered a cholera outbreak in the wake of Idai. Photo: WFP/Déborah Nguyen

At first sight, a semblance of normalcy prevails. But things never really did get back to normal after Cyclone Idai hit this city, Mozambique's second-largest, on 14 March last year. So many residents lost what little they had. It will take years for them to recover.

WFP provided emergency food rations to 1.8 million of the worst-affected people. During the first phase of the humanitarian operation, helicopters carried food to isolated areas, inaccessible by road. Slowly, as the floodwaters receded, the aid could be moved by truck, allowing more survivors to be reached.

‘Without this project, my family would go to bed hungry'

Since August, WFP has been supplying food assistance to help hundreds of thousands of people to get back on their feet, while supporting a wide range of reconstruction and rehabilitation projects.

These include repairing road and bridges, rebuilding schools and developing community farms to boost food production. Such initiatives are helping to heal wounds, give hope, and lay the groundwork for better futures.

Survivors are determined to overcome the obstacles. Elisa Jorge Titosse is one such.

Elisa helps grow rice, maize, cassava, groundnuts and pineapples. Photo: WFP/Déborah Nguyen

Elisa is 27. With a steely gaze, she explains how Idai took everything her family had, including their home. The night the cyclone struck, through heavy rain and high winds, she, her husband and their three children rushed to the local school for refuge.

But within days, the lack of clean water triggered an outbreak of cholera that quickly spread through the scores of schools, churches and other public buildings sheltering the displaced.

Elisa and her family decided their only option was to return to the ruins of their home and try to pick up the pieces. The flooding had also washed away the maize, cassava and vegetables on their tiny plot just as they were ready to be harvested. Elisa's family, like so many Mozambicans, are subsistence farmers. ‘‘It felt like the end of the world,'' she says.

A fish treat at home with the family. Photo: WFP/Déborah Nguyen

‘‘Little by little, we rebuilt. It took several months before our small house looked like a home again.''

Now, along with 600 other people, mostly women, Elisa is also putting her talents to good use at a sprawling, WFP-supported community farm in Mafambisse, 55 kilometres northwest of Beira.

There, they grow rice, maize, cassava, groundnuts and pineapples to sell. They reinvest the proceeds to extend the farm and plant more food. Mango seedlings, after sprouting, are taken home by the participants and replanted in their own gardens.

‘‘I really enjoy working on the farm with the other women," she says. "As we plough and harvest, we chat, share our problems, laugh and sing."

She adds: "Working at the farm with other women from the community brings me so much joy."

In return for her work, Elisa receives a voucher worth US$ 40 a month. This allows her to buy what the family most needs at the local shop. Food is obviously a top priority, and gives her the strength for the strenuous labour that is sowing seeds — both literally and metaphorically — for a brighter future of self-reliance.

"Without this project, my family would go to bed hungry," she says.

Given Mozambique's heavy dependence on rainfed, smallholder farming and its vulnerability to climate change — as underscored by Cyclone Kenneth causing widespread devastation in the north of the country just six weeks after Idai — WFP is keenly aware that much more investment is needed in adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

But because funding is drying up, WFP's support for projects like the community farm Elisa works on is at risk. WFP needs another US$ 91 million to be able to keep them going beyond this month.

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