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Southern Africa cyclone season ends leaving ruined water and sanitation facilities for thousands in its wake

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With the storm season coming to an end in Southern Africa, tropical storms and cyclones have once again proved hugely damaging in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi, leaving thousands displaced with long-term damage to their homes along with vital access to clean water and sanitation.

While this extreme weather is a regular feature of the annual regional weather, climate change continues to make it harder to predict and inflicts intense rainfall on areas least able to cope.

Most damaging were Tropical Storm Ana, which tore past the Madagascan capital Antananarivo and on into Mozambique and Malawi in late January, and Cyclone Batsirai two weeks later which most impacted Southern Madagascar, a region already struggling to cope with drought and famine.

Since January, around 205 people had died in Madagascar from the five extreme weather events which struck the country during cyclone season, according to the UN’s agency for humanitarian affairs, OCHA. In the aftermath of cyclone Batsirai around 133,500 people in the Vatovavy, Fitovinany and south-east regions of Madagascar were in need of water, sanitation and hygiene, a damage assessment by the government and NGOs operating in the area in February found.

WaterAid has responded during the cyclone months by providing emergency water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, to help prevent the spread of disease among the affected population.

At the time nearly 17,000 households were displaced in Malawi whose inhabitants found shelter in 83 camp sites, 28 of which are still operational two months later and, for many, could become semi-permanent.

WaterAid is delivering Water, Sanitation and Hygiene supplies in one such camp at Nyamuthuthu in Nsanje in the very southern tip of the country. Chikondi Chumia is the organisation’s programme officer there. He said: “The situation is still very bad and if you took a tour around just to see how devastating the impact is, you would see that people have lost their homes, their property and their sources of income. They have lost their sanitation facilities and some of the water points have been contaminated.

WaterAid has been helping by providing buckets to collect water and chlorine to sterilise it, along with hygiene kits. Chikondi Chumia said: “A lot of support is needed when it comes to the provision of safe water and sanitation, and supporting people with all the necessities that they require to get back to their homes safely, because this is not a long-lasting solution.”

Across the border in Mozambique, the National Institute for Disaster Managements kept a running tally of the destructive power of Storm Ana:

  • 11,757 houses destroyed;

  • 26 health centres damaged;

  • 25 water supply systems wrecked;

  • 138 power poles non-operational;

  • 2,275 km of roads requiring repair.

In the Central Mozambican province of Zambézia, WaterAid has been assessing the long-term damage to water and sanitation infrastructure. Several weeks after Storm Ana had dissipated, they found areas in Baixo Lucungo in the coastal district of Maganja da Costa still under water. Nearly two-thirds of the 40,000 Mozambicans most affected by Storm Ana live in this district where 2511 latrines and 20 boreholes were destroyed, according to the government.

At Marata Community School, Asia (11) and Rita (12) have been helping to fix their latrines which were rendered unusable by the floods. School Director Félix Cuanissa said: “With the last rains, everything was ruined. Right now, we have nothing that works, neither the taps, nor the tank and even less the toilets. We had to build a traditional latrine for the students.”

Storm Ana also seriously affected health care facilities. At the Mugeba Health Centre, two water sources were flooded and damaged, putting the latrines out of use and requiring staff to provide medical care to 400 patients without clean water or sanitation.

Filomena João is the Clinical Director and General Medicine Technician: “We are in a complicated situation. The only standpipes or taps we use are broken and without water we can't use the toilets. Our Health Unit is very sought after as it is the only one in the entire Mugeba Administrative Post. We are asking for help.”

66-year-old Zuina Alberto is caring for three of her grandchildren in a resettlement centre after abandoning her home in Gentivo. She said: “I lost my house and everything in it. Everything went fast and by the time we tried to save some things, it was too late. We were moved to this centre and as you can see, we have nothing but these tents.”

Francisco Sangarote Alcandra is in charge of the same resettlement centre which is still providing temporary accommodation for more than 100 families with no latrines. He stands in front of a house destroyed by Tropical Storm Ana. While he awaits outside support to help reconstruction in the area, he is doing what he can to teach residents and their children vital life skills. “We have children here who go to school. We must teach them about sanitation and how to take care of water so that they can learn early. They also have to know why we are here, so that they can protect themselves when adults,” he said.

WaterAid’s Southern Africa region launched an emergency appeal to support the affected communities in Malawi and others in Mozambique. USD $650,000 has already been committed to cover the initial phase until August to provide safe drinking water, sanitation facilities as well as hygiene supplies and behaviour change messaging in communities impacted by the storms. This support will improve living conditions and prevent disease outbreaks in the temporary shelters.

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