Deadly Idai deluge followed by a flood of compassion
As the death toll rises in Zim and Moz, aid workers say the response to calls for help has been 'overwhelming'
They came in all colours and creeds: young and old, black and white, Christians and Muslims – all working side by side on the well-manicured lawns of the Highlands Presbyterian Church in Harare, Zimbabwe, doing their utmost to help those displaced by the deadly Cyclone Idai.
“We thought it [the volunteering] would just be for two days, but here we are now, on day seven. It doesn’t look like there will be an end any time soon,” Jamie Philips, a co-ordinator at the Miracle Mission Care Organisation, told Times Select.
Idai smashed into Mozambique’s coast last weekend before battering eastern Zimbabwe, killing more than 700 people in both countries.
Philips said the response to calls for assistance was overwhelming, both from individuals and corporate companies. Several organisations are involved in providing aid, including the Rotary Club, Eat Out and the Islamic Society of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government has released $50m for relief efforts.
At the Highlands Presbyterian Church on Monday, the lawns were laid out with dresses, shorts, shoes, nappies and sanitary wear to be packed up and donated to those injured and displaced in the natural disaster. A group of young men were co-ordinating the delivery of bottled water.
Once donations of clothing are dropped off at the relief centre volunteers sort them into packs to be given to the victims. Bags marked “men”, “ladies”, “boys” and “girls” lie on the ground for easy identification by those doing the packing.
So far, 35 trucks, carrying up to 30 tons each, have been dispatched to warehouses in Mutare, eastern Zimbabwe. It is understood the warehouses are under 24-hour guard. Pilots have offered their time to fly helicopters into the most severely hit areas that are inaccessible by road.
“People have been willing to donate without any hesitation and they have faith that this aid is going directly to where it needs to go. So we have had managing directors of companies spending time here and offloading trucks. We had pupils from Goromonzi and Hellenic schools also coming in their buses to assist the volunteers, and they also brought their donations – it’s been such a united cause by everyone,” said Philips.
The death toll from Cyclone Idai is estimated to be almost 330 people in Zimbabwe. Displaced people in Zimbabwe are said to number almost 6,800. On Sunday, Mozambique’s land and environment minister, Celso Correia, said the death toll in his country had risen to 446 from 417, that 531,000 people had been affected by the disaster and 110,000 were in camps.
While donations at the Highlands relief centre have mostly been in the form of clothing and food – even cash – makeshift infrastructure has also been critical.
Ship containers are being used as surgical and operating theatres, after clinics and other permanent structures were washed away by torrential rain and winds up to 170km/h.
“I pray to God and say that I need something, and 30 minutes or so later someone just walks into this place with the very thing needed for the relief efforts. That is how we are running this place and that is how we got the container converted for surgery,” said another volunteer, Renee Dance.
Matthew Wazara is the lead doctor overseeing a team of 40 doctors who volunteered their services in the eastern part of the country. He spent five days in Chimanimani and will be heading back again later this week.
The team includes surgeons, gynaecologists, paediatricians and pharmacists assisted by 30 nurses.
Wazara said doctors on site had not seen major injuries since most of the victims were buried in landslides and the search for bodies was still under way.
“However, there was a significant number of patients with wounds, but most surprising was the amount of maternity cases. We had so many babies being delivered. The other concern we have is that people who are on chronic medication have had their supplies washed away, and the place is also prone to waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid,” he said.
Wazara said volunteers who had been working for more than a week would probably need to be treated for psychological trauma.
“They saw what they don’t normally see; it has been graphic, and psychological trauma is another issue we will have to deal with.”
Economists expect the damage to infrastructure to eventually run into millions of dollars, with roads, bridges, public buildings and houses destroyed. Insurance companies said at the weekend there would probably be no mass payout for the victims.
Insurance for natural disasters such as cyclones is classified under catastrophic insurance cover and, according to the Insurance Council of Zimbabwe, an umbrella body representing about 30 insurance companies, this is “expensive and a luxury good”.