Mozambique: After the Storm, Mozambicans Brace for COVID-19

A year on from two of the worst cyclones in Mozambique's history, tens of thousands of people are still struggling to rebuild. The coronavirus pandemic is not helping.

Celso Manuel wonders when the shocks will stop. The 26-year-old saw his city Beira, in central Mozambique, devastated by two cyclones last year, which killed more than 600 people. He was still rebuilding the roof of his house when a new disaster struck.

"Because of the coronavirus, I lost my job," he tells RFI.

"My security firm said there was less need for staff because there were no contracts."

His contract was terminated in February, a few weeks before the southern nation reported its first Covid-19 case on 22 March.

Now the father of two worries about how he will pay for the repairs on his unfinished house and support his family.

Friends and neighbours have offered odd jobs here and there, but it is not enough.

Scraping to survive

"Before, I was bringing home around 120 dollars per month. Today, I barely make 45 dollars."

His plight echoes that facing tens of thousands of Mozambicans who are still living in damaged homes or makeshift shelters with little or no social protection.

Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable.

"Many employees have been sent home without getting their salaries and they don't have an alternative source of income," comments Espinola Caribe, head of the World Food Programme's Beira sub-office.

Looming food shortages

In rural areas, restrictions on movement and border closures have pushed food prices up further, as much-needed food is left unproduced.

"So many people were expected to start harvesting, and then Covid-19 hit," Caribe told RFI. He fears the pandemic will batter harvests like Cyclone Idai did a year before.

When the super storm struck on 9 March 2019, it destroyed over 715,000 hectares in Mozambique's central breadbasket region just weeks before the main harvest. The storm also left a trail of destruction in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Weeks later, Mozambique was hit by a second cyclone Kenneth. The two storms, together with severe flooding and an ongoing drought, has left thousands displaced and over 2 million in desperate need of food aid.

Forgotten crisis

"While all the world has been affected by Covid-19, leaders should not forget that there are really vulnerable people in Mozambique who cannot even recover from the previous shock," insists Caribe, calling for urgent funds.

But with the virus ravaging rich countries, analysts fear there will be little money left over for poorer ones.

Recent funding cuts to the World Health Organization by US President Donald Trump may be a harbinger of more austerity.

In February, the World Food Programme was forced to reduce rations and suspend food distribution in resettlement sites because of the reduced cash flow.

Emergency funding from aid organisation USAID has replenished WFP's coffers but Caribe wants the international community to act sooner before Mozambique nears the brink.

Worst over

"Even though this is a health crisis it threatens to become a potential human catastrophe," he warns, pointing to the 55,000 people in resettlement sites where social distancing is almost impossible.

Mozambique, which has a state of emergency in place till the end of May, has 103 confirmed coronavirus cases so far, after four were reported in Beira on Monday.

Although relatively low compared to neighbouring South Africa, public health experts fear the country's health system may be not be able to cope if cases rise further.

But Mozambicans still recovering from Cyclone Idai and a protracted insurgency in the northern province of Cabo Delgado would like to hope they have seen the worst.

Beria resident Celso Manuel gestures timidly towards an end of the pandemic: "I hope things will improve, I want to find a new job and feed my family," he says, and finally finish rebuilding.

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