On March 14th,2019, the Mozambican city of Beira—population, half a million—was devastated by 225 km/hr winds and 6-meter-high-waves. Power lines and trees fell across town. The roof of the Central Hospital partially collapsed, leaving parts of it flooded and without light.
Cyclone Idai also ravaged the nearby provinces of Sofala, Zambezia, Manica and Inhambane killing at least 600. But the number is definitely bigger: the collapse of a dam, three days after the hurricane flooded these areas, has generated more, unquantified, losses.
The overall numbers are staggering: 1.85 million Mozambicans 869,00 Malawians and 270,000 Zimbabweans have been affected by Idai, making this the biggest disaster in the Southern Hemisphere.
As a response to this catastrophe, four CADENA volunteers (me included) traveled from Mexico to Africa to donate 200 emergency solar-powered lamps, which can provide 8-hours of continuous light—and 271 water filters.
Arriving in Mozambique was a shock: poverty, vulnerability and natural phenomena combined to create a disastrous but all-too-common mix. On the ground we contacted our international partner, the NATAN Foundation, and local players like Remar, Help Age and the Jewish community of Maputo.
We then joined the United Nations cluster in Beira, where we explained how the water filters worked and handed out most of our donations to local players, who will deploy them strategically. This cluster represented for me the possibilities of our species: people of all races, beliefs, cultures, nationalities working pass complexity and misinformation to achieve a simple goal—to bring hope and help the people of Mozambique.
Shortly after our meeting, we left to the Nhamatanda district stopping on the way in camps where hundreds of recently displaced families slept without any light, getting by with small fires in complete darkness. And, no running water; throughout the country, Cyclone Idai has contaminated water sources, raising the risk of a potential cholera epidemic nationwide—more than 1,000 cases have already been registered.
If properly maintained, our filters, capable of filtering 99.9% of the water-based bacteria, can last 5 years and benefit up to 50,000 people.
Training people in the usage of water filters was a challenging task: we tried speaking in Spanish but Portuguese—the local language—but the translation of the instructions proved to be harder than what we thought. But we got it done, and, in a single day, managed to install drinking water for more than 4,000 people. We camped in the area and started the next day before the sun came up.
The next day we worked installing more filters and playing with the kids in the morning. We were the only ones doing this. We believe resilience is achieved with internal strength and that strength comes from forgetting, for a moment, the misery of one’s situation.
In the afternoon we installed water filters in the clinics and operating rooms of the General Hospital of Nhamatanda. We saw people suffering from cholera, diarrhea and dehydration are lying down in cardboards in the floor (there were no available beds). After the hospital, we installed more filters in a nursing school and an orphanage. The mission was a success, and the team, as always, receives much more than it gives. This is the magic of humanitarian action—you have to live through it to understand.