Michalya Schonwald Moss

‘There are no natural disasters here’ #CycloneIdai

Photos taken by the National Institute of Disaster Management, Mozambique. Arial view of the Sofala and Manica provinces, hardest hit by  Cyclone Idai

“There are no natural disasters here.”

That was before Cyclone Idai wreaked devastation on Mozambique and parts of Zimbabwe and Malawi last week in what is being called the worst weather disaster in the Southern hemisphere.

When CADENA, the US-based humanitarian aid organisation approached the South African Jewish community one year ago with interest in establishing a hub office in Johannesburg, it was not a hard sell.  With help from Diaspora Jewish communities, CADENA delivers relief to disaster zones around the world.

The possibility of engaging the South African Jewish community to support local humanitarian relief efforts, in the spirit of ubuntu and Tikkun Olam was compelling, as was the excitement from our community to get involved.

There was only one problem. “There are no large scale natural disasters here”, we told the board of CADENA International.

While South Africa does experience smaller-scale crises like flooding, droughts, shack and forest fires, and tiny tremors when the mined earth shifts in Johannesburg, these crises have not been on the scale of a Cyclone Idai. Last November, CADENA SA organised a campaign within the Jewish community to help victims of a strong storm in a squatter camp who lost everything with food and other supplies and for survivors of a shack fire in the Alexandra township.   

South Africa is the promised land for many African refugees, migrants, those seeking asylum and young people who are searching for their fortunes. In an average day, we engage with people from a multitude of African states: Zimbabwe, Malawi, the DRC, Mozambique. They are our friends, neighbours, service providers and colleagues. 

When Mendy Grauman, a professional photographer and member of the Johannesburg Jewish community, heard about the city of Beira being 90% washed away, he said he wanted to help. “I spent last December holidaying in that area of Mozambique, and I fell in love with the people.”

A few days later, Mendy was on a flight to Beira, his backpack crammed with 20 water filters left over from CADENA SA’s mission to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, copious amounts of biltong, knee high rain boots and a waterproof bag full of camera equipment. 

The CADENA emergency response team have spent the last 24 hours on the ground in Beira, liaising with the international aid community, reporting on needs, distributing solar lamps and installing 270 water filters that purify 800 litres of water for 50,000 people per day and that can last up to five years if properly maintained.  

A cholera outbreak has just been reported.

Benjamin Laniado, the Founder of CADENA, sent us his reflections from day 1 via whatsapp. Here is an excerpt: 

“We arrived at the cluster of United Nations in Beira. Beyond the complexity of understanding the flow of information, the humanitarian actors who take the lead, the cooperation between all the agencies and NGOs like us, beyond that, with a deep look what we see in plain sight is that the true triumph of humanity is what is happening here; all races, beliefs, cultures, nationalities, languages, uniforms with different signs and colours, all present to help the people of Mozambique. The world should be a cluster!”

Please visit our Facebook page to follow the most recent updates on our mission to Mozambique and ways you can help us in our relief efforts.

About the Author
Michalya Schonwald Moss is a social impact & innovation consultant and co-founder of SpekTech, a digital platform that accelerates climate impact beyond the carbon market in Africa. Originally from the U.S and Israel, Michalya has lived in Johannesburg, South Africa since 2009.