– April 30 2019
Protecting children at risk during cyclone Idai
How disaster preparedness paid off in Beira, Mozambique
Planning and training at the SOS Children’s Village in Beria helped to protect children during Cyclone Idai
As Tropical Cyclone Idai approached the coastal city of Beira, children at SOS Children’s Village Beira and their caregivers gathered at designated safe areas in their homes, equipped with water, torches and other emergency supplies.
Throughout a long night as Idai battered Beira in mid-March, the children at the Village were safe and the homes themselves suffered relatively little damage. In contrast, the storm devastated the city of more than 500,000 people.
The readiness of the 147 children and 35 staff ahead of the storm can be attributed in part to the preparations carried out over the past year through E-Prep, the SOS Children’s Villages Emergency Preparedness Program.
“The staff and children were very well prepared”, says Baptista Boa, Director of the SOS Children’s Village in Beira, adding that all 35 co-workers and some of the older children at the Village had undergone E-Prep training. “As soon as we heard that the cyclone would hit Beira, we conducted simulations with the children and SOS caregivers within the Village. We identified safe places where people should gather together, and the places to keep food. Through E-Prep we had already had food and other supplies stored in the warehouse.
“That turned out to be important, because after the cyclone hit Beira, there was no one supplying food, water and medications. But we were well prepared because we had food, first-aid kits and other supplies,” Mr Boa says.
Baptista Boa is Director of the SOS Children's Village Beira. Emergency preparedness is not a one-time thing, he says. Photo: SOS Children's Villages Mozambique [Main photo] A Beira school was turned into a makeshift shelter for families who lost their homes during Cyclone Idai. Photo by Cornél van Heerden
‘A good buffer against stress’
Preparedness may also have contributed to reducing the traumatic impact of the storm.
“SOS Children's Villages Mozambique was one of the pilot countries for E-Prep and what was done here was very effective”, says Teresa Ngigi, an SOS Children’s Villages mental health and psychosocial support advisor.
“When the cyclone hit, all the children were together with the SOS mothers”, says Ms Ngigi, part of the Global Emergency Response team sent to Beira after the storm. “The children felt protected. That was a good buffer against stress or trauma.”
The powerful storm left a trail of destruction across central Mozambique and parts of neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi. Idai damaged or destroyed 240,000 homes in Mozambique and left more than 160,000 people living in shelters and other temporary housing, according to government estimates. Many SOS co-workers, who were at the Beira Village to care for children throughout the storm, were amongst those who lost homes. Some had relatives amongst the hundreds killed during Idai.
Mr. Boa says the Beira Village works with Mozambique’s national disaster agency, and other outside partners such as the local fire brigade and the Red Cross, as part of its E-Prep training. Emergency preparedness must be ongoing, he says.
“We held refresher trainings on a monthly basis. Once you are trained and you do not practice, you end up forgetting what to do”, says Mr Boa, who was visiting the SOS Children’s Village in Tete, another city affected by Idai, when the storm struck Beira. “With Idai, we were all forced to put into practice what we learned. It was amazing to see the children taking the initiative. After the storm, they also helped to clean up the Village.”
SOS Children's Villages Beira was largely untouched by Tropical Cyclone Idai. Daniela Gimbel leads a sessions on hygiene at the Village a few days after the storm as the risk of cholera and other water-borne diseases grew in the city. Photo by Cornél van Heerden.
E-Prep began in 2017 with a grant from SOS Children's Villages' long-time partner Allianz. The programme focuses on risk and vulnerability studies, providing safety training to SOS national co-workers, pre-positioning relief supplies, and providing logistical advice.
Beira Village in Mozambique was one of the ten pilot programs, along with Bangladesh (Rajshahi), Ecuador (Quito), Nicaragua (Esteli), Niger (Tahoua), Somalia (Mogadishu), South Sudan (Juba), Syria (Qodsaya) and Ukraine (Luhansk). Since then the program has been expanded to other countries and programs where SOS Children’s Villages works.