Ibo Island’s airport is comprised of an open field runway, a paved loading area, and a building façade announcing “Ibo”– normally it’s a quiet airstrip, however it’s been buzzing with incoming helicopters and small planes since Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in northern Mozambique just over one month ago.
Multiple aircraft arrive daily bringing in urgently needed humanitarian assistance including food and shelter supplies, accompanied by donors, humanitarians and journalists.
Many Ibo Island locals support themselves by preparing and selling baked goods at the local market, and many others support themselves through fishing. Fisherman say their catches have diminished since the cyclone, as the sea is still agitated, but they expect the sea life to return.
Before the cyclone, tourists often frequented the island to visit the Portuguese fort and other historical remains from the ship trading period, to enjoy the clear waters of Quirimbas National Park, and to take in the island’s Portuguese and Arabic influence.
The daily lives of residents were drastically interrupted on 25 April by the landfall of Cyclone Kenneth, with a direct hit Ibo Island experienced winds over 200 km/ hour winds and extended torrential rain.
“We knew it was coming, but did not think it would be that strong,” explained Avulai, an island resident, who, after the roof of his house blew away, and further damage was sustained to his home, took shelter on his neighbor’s porch for the two-day period of rain that accompanied Cyclone Kenneth. “We fared badly. We lost may things. We will buy materials to fix our house. But we don’t have money. It’s difficult.”
An estimated 90% houses on the island were damaged or destroyed. If not toppled by the gale force winds, many structures crumbled in the rain because the coral rocks and “matope” mud construction could not withstand the downpour.
Residents whose homes were damaged took shelter with neighbors or in sturdy buildings nearby. “We ran to take shelter in a neighbor’s house, made of concrete. There were so many people inside that there was no place to sit,” said Regina, who grew up on Ibo Island.
Residents are struggling to find means to rebuild. “Our metal roofing sheets flew to another neighborhood. We did not find them,” said Sara. “We all just picked up the roof sheets that landed near our homes and used them to create makeshift arrangements to live in.”
Some families are sleeping outside, many sleep inside the remaining structure of their home without a roof; nighttime temperatures are cool, they are all exposed to the elements and to mosquitos; and they have little protection. Others have improvised shelters out of branches and palm leaves. “We still return to the same neighbor’s veranda when the rain becomes too much for us, because water leaks in our shelter,” said Sara.
To assist families who lack the resources to rebuild, IOM and Istituto Oikos - an Italian NGO, which works on protection and conservation of natural resources and sustainable development - are working together to provide affected families with tarpaulins, which have been donated by the Department for International Development (DFID) of the Government of the United Kingdom. Four-member shelter teams install the tarpaulins on the roofs of damaged homes and makeshift shelters. The assistance is aimed at the most vulnerable families who may not be able to install the tarps on their own, including female headed households, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
The shelter assistance efforts take place in coordination with the Government of Mozambique’s Disaster Management Agency (INGC). The effort compliments the work of INGC and humanitarian organizations, which are distributing food, health kits and other supplies.
Since efforts began, more than 300 vulnerable families have received support from shelter teams. Four shelter teams, equipped by IOM with shelter tools, and basic building materials like nails that were not available for purchase on Ibo, continue to move through the island, assisting in total more than 40 families per day; 1,000 families are slated to receive assistance.
IOM provided tools for the shelter teams: including saw, hammer and materials including rope and wire. Teams are reimbursed for their time with food vouchers for a local store.
Transportation of the tarps from Pemba to Ibo Island, conducted by boat and flight, was provided by the Logistics Cluster. Flights for staff and transportation of shelter kits, including tools for Shelter Teams, were provided by Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
“This is a community-based effort. We are engaging local residents and providing them with the tools to help their neighbors,” explained Tania Miorin, Coordinator for Istituto Oikos in Ibo District. “The teams bring assistance directly to families to help overcome this emergency phase. This is especially important for vulnerable families, who might not be able to attend an aid distribution.” (Tania to review quote)
Istituto Oikos, an Italian NGO, which works on protection and conservation of natural resources and sustainable development, is using their familiarity with the area to support the emergency response. During the cyclone, the Istituto Oikos building sheltered over 50 people for 10 days.
“Cyclone Kenneth destroyed families’ homes and livelihoods. The widespread damage leaves residents with few resources,” said IOM staff Magnus Wolfe Murray, Shelter Cluster Coordinator in Cabo Delgado, the northernmost coastal province of Mozambique.
“These tarpaulins provide temporary emergency support, until a more permanent solution can be developed,” said Magnus.
“This was our house,” said Regina, indicating to a pile of rubble and a few partially standing walls. She sits on their one remaining chair, with the youngest of five children in her lap, outside the family’s temporary shelter made of metal roof panels.
“In reality I am not well. I have no hope to have a house tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. We did not have many belongings, but the things that I had of value- our home and beds were destroyed in the cyclone.” Regina keeps her remaining cooking utensils at a neighbor’s house, to protect them from theft, because her temporary accommodation, constructed of roof panels, does not have a door.
“We can’t help each other, we all lost our homes,” said her neighbor Rute. “The cyclone wind was very strong; children could not be left to walk alone. We fled with our children in our arms and had to save ourselves.”
Regina and her children received a tarp and assistance to install it from the Shelter Team. “The tarp is helping a little. At least the water no longer enters the house when it rains.”
In addition to her house, Regina’s oven was also destroyed in the cyclone. “I make fried bread balls with flower, oil, sugar and yeast. My daughter sells them at the market. It is the only support I have for the children. When we have money we make more.”
“My whole body hurts. It’s always like this because of age. It got worse because of the cyclone,” said Sofia, a widow whose house was destroyed in the storm. The adjacent homes of her two daughters were also damaged. The three are now living with the daughters’ seven children in the structure they made of metal roof panels. A tarpaulin recently installed by the Shelter Teams now prevents rain from entering the top of the structure.
Cyclone Kenneth has affected the family’s livelihood. “Before the cyclone we had ten ducks. Now we have five ducks. We eat them, and sell and buy ducks at the market.” The family also used to make bread balls for sale, but their oven fell down in the cyclone. “We would prepare bread if we had an oven. We don’t know how we will prepare them now.”
Despite these challenges, Sofia still appreciates her surroundings. “I feel good here because my family is here- my children, grandchildren and sister.”
Palmira and her nine children also lost the roof of their house. “We never saw anything like this. We were very scared. The roof blew off of our house. Rain was falling on my head, so we went to our neighbors’ house. It rained for seven days.”
The family have already reconstructed it with local materials; though there are some holes in the side of the damaged house, the top is now covered with a tarp. “It will do,” said Palmira.
Education for children has also been negatively impacted. “We are asking for help to get notebooks, uniforms and pens. Tomorrow we have a math test. But we don’t know how we will do it because there are no pens or paper,” said Palmira’s son Augusto.
Isabel, 30, is a single mother of four young children. Their house of coral rocks and matope mud was completely destroyed in the cyclone. She used branches from the house that fell to erect the structure of her new house. To sustain her family, Isabel uses a spear to catch fish and sells them at the local market.
A fisherman Omar, was also in the process of placing a tarp on his roof. “The tarp helps. It’s enough until we can afford to rebuild. When that will be – we can only hope.”
Difficulties on Ibo Island are further compounded by limited communication abilities. The Shelter Teams communicate by radio because there is no phone or internet service, except in a couple locations by the central area of town.
Just over one month after Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in northern Mozambique, over 300,000 people continue to need humanitarian assistance in the coastal provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula. An estimated 45,000 houses have been either damaged or destroyed according to the Government of Mozambique.
IOM is responding to urgent shelter needs following Cyclone Kenneth through the incoming management of Non-Food Item (NFI) kits, and delivering to humanitarian partners, who are carrying out distributions. As of 17 May, IOM has delivered over 7,000 plastic sheets to partners for distribution in Cabo Delgado (Macomia, Ibo Islands, and Quissinga) and Nampula (Erati and Memba) in order to respond to urgent shelter needs.
Click here to donate to IOM's cyclone relief efforts in Mozambique.
Text and photos: IOM/Sandra Black and Magnus Wolfe Murray.