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Rebuilding Homes and Restoring Hope in Mozambique after Deadly Cyclones

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Three powerful cyclones — Idai, Kenneth, and Eloise — struck Mozambique between 2019 and 2021, leaving hundreds of thousands of people displaced and devastating crops and livelihoods. We recently checked in with several communities on the road to recovery.

On March 14, 2019, Tayobe’s life changed forever. Cyclone Idai — the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere — made landfall in central Mozambique, destroying his home in the village of Mabaia near the Zimbabwe border.

Today, things are looking up for Tayobe and his family. With support from USAID partner the International Organization for Migration (IOM), he is putting the final touches on a new house. It’s built on a concrete foundation that will prevent flooding and damage caused by heavy rains. Once the concrete dries, Tayobe plans to move his family of 10 into the new house, and is looking forward to decorating the exterior with paint and flower pots.

Tayobe’s story is one of thousands of people assisted by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. By the storm’s end, Cyclone Idai had affected the lives of more than 1.85 million people and killed at least 602 people in Mozambique alone.

Even for those who survived, life got much harder. The devastating storm couldn’t have come at a worse time, as it made landfall during the critical grain harvest, destroying approximately 1.8 million acres of agricultural land, leaving most lowlands in Manica and Sofala provinces under water for months.

To make matters worse, the region didn’t get long to recover, as Tropical Cyclone Eloise made landfall near Beira in January 2021, causing widespread flooding and extensive damage to houses, croplands, and public infrastructure across Mozambique’s central provinces.

“In Mozambique, more than 70% of poor households live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for food and income,” explained Leonor Domingos, USAID Senior Food Security and Disaster Response Advisor. “Because agriculture is mostly rainfed, with very little irrigation, it is very susceptible to climate change. Shocks, like three consecutive cyclones, can be absolutely devastating and have generational impacts.”

This summer, a team from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance visited nearly two dozen of these resettlement sites in Manica and Sofala, where USAID is working with humanitarian partners to provide emergency assistance to displaced families.

With more than $100 million in support from USAID since 2019, nongovernmental organizations and UN partners have provided agriculture assistance, support for livelihoods, emergency shelter, safe drinking water, hygiene supplies, and improved sanitation to the most vulnerable people displaced by the two tropical cyclones.

“These families and communities have been through so much,” said Melanie Luick-Martins, USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance Team Lead in Mozambique. “It was great to see how USAID’s assistance has not only helped them survive the immediate aftermath of the devastating cyclones, but is now helping them reestablish their lives and livelihoods.”

Replanting and Feeding Families

Agricultural support remains key to the survival of cyclone-affected communities who lost not only their houses, but their farms and their livelihoods. During the recent field visits, USAID’s team visited projects run by partners CARE, the International Potato Center (CIP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Vision. These partners provide seeds, tools, livestock, and technical assistance to help displaced farming communities feed their families and rebuild their livelihoods.

For example, CIP provided tuber cuttings, tools, and specialized training to grow sweet potatoes in resettlement sites in Manica Province. These sweet potatoes are nutrient-packed superfoods and can be eaten alone or are cooked with other locally produced ingredients, providing an excellent food source throughout the year.

CIP also provided technical assistance to farmers to help ensure good harvests and gave guidance to mothers on ways to provide much-needed nutrients to their kids, such as using sweet potatoes to make papi, a fortified porridge that supports children’s growth.

“The cyclone disrupted the whole cropping system. Farmers had to start from zero,” Riquito Mussabo, CIP Agriculture Specialist, explained. “The re-introduction of fast growing, resilient, and nutritious crops such as sweet potatoes was significant to re-establishing their livelihoods. For example, the families were able to start harvesting edible leaves after 45 days and roots, which they could sell, after 80 to 90 days.”

The USAID team also visited Chibabava’s Macarate resettlement site. With seeds and tools provided by USAID partner CARE, residents there were able to plant cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and couve — a local variety of leafy green — in personal and communal plots, known locally as machambas.

These vegetables will be a key source of food for many displaced households once harvested, as many reported losing their winter crops to Tropical Cyclone Eloise. A group of women farmers in Macarate told the team that they expected to grow enough vegetables in their summer crop to feed their families and sell extra produce in their local market.

Rebuilding Homes and Restoring a Sense of Security

In addition to agricultural assistance, USAID supports partners like IOM to help families build new permanent shelters in higher lands — identified in coordination with the Government of Mozambique — to mitigate the risk of flooding from future cyclones. House frames take only a few days to construct, and consist primarily of wooden posts affixed to an angled metal roof, which is attached to the frame using nails and smaller wood beams.

Most people choose to reinforce the house frame with lacalaca — thin, flexible wood branches that they gather to interweave between larger wood posts — and plaster over with adobe or concrete. Some women heads of household, (including the woman pictured above left) said they will go a slightly more intricate route by using bricks or stones held together by bamboo strips to form their house walls. This is thought to form a sturdier frame that will afford even more protection from the wind and heavy rains. During the USAID team visit, Magara residents were finishing construction on their houses ahead of the rainy season, and were especially grateful for their new chapas, or corrugated zinc metal roofs, provided with USAID support. One resident said she is looking forward to finishing her house so that she can sit and enjoy watching the rain from her porch.

The powerful cyclones caused these communities to suffer immense losses, and they have spent two years rebuilding not just their houses and machambas, but also their livelihoods and a sense of security. Despite the challenges faced, they’ve shown resilience and determination to create a brighter future for themselves. Now equipped with the tools they need from USAID and its partners, for many families that future is now within their reach.