(PNS) It has been three weeks since the Southern African countries of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe were slammed by Cyclone Idai, packing winds of more than 120 miles per hour and torrential rains that produced catastrophic flooding.
But, as first response rescue efforts continue, it is becoming clear to aid agencies such as Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) that recovery is going to be a long process in this region. That brings with it the challenge of keeping people’s attention focused on recovery in distant nations when the media gaze is turned to newer disasters, maybe closer to home.
“That’s why you have a national office in a church that has a stated commitment to providing attention and care to all of God’s children, not just the ones that are obvious, interesting or beneficial to us in some way,” says the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. “We have a commitment to tell those stories and respond, whether people are noticing or not. But it is challenging sometimes to hold people’s interest.”
Cyclone Idai grabbed attention when it happened, followed by statistics that have become more staggering as time goes on.
The death toll across the three countries stands at nearly 1,000, according to various news sources, with more than 129,000 displaced people in Mozambique, 250,000 affected by floods in Zimbabwe and 17 out of 28 districts affected in Malawi, according to ACT Alliance, which PDA partners with in global disaster recovery. One of the current concerns is an outbreak of cholera and other water-borne illnesses, according to the United Nations.
“This has turned out to be larger than it looked like it was going to be,” Kraus says of the damage from the storm, which is now being called by numerous authorities one of the biggest cyclones to strike the Southern Hemisphere. “They’re really just getting to the point now where some of the flood waters have receded sufficiently so that people can go in and begin to do body recovery, other people can go in to see if there’s anything left of their village or their personal belongings.”
There are added challenges working in an area that has grappled with systemic poverty in its recent history, and now has had much of its infrastructure decimated by the storm.