From Mozambique: a cry out to leaders at the Climate Summit

A young man passes by a destroyed house in Ibo Island, one of the most affected areas by Cyclone Kenneth in April 2019.

As world leaders gather in New York this week for the Climate Action Summit, Oxfam partner Jose Mucote decided to come all the way from Mozambique to share his experiences as a first responder to the devastating Cyclone Idai earlier this year, a cyclone that is a true witness of a climate crisis we can no longer ignore.

Jose, who is the Executive Director of AJOAGO - a Mozambican humanitarian organization and partner of Oxfam – was one of the first responders when the deadly cyclone Idai hit Mozambique earlier this year. Jose and his team provided life-saving aid to people during those crucial first days. They had to travel by boat, canoes and wade through water to save people. 

“I have come from Mozambique to bring the voice of the people who have become poorer as they are hit by reoccurring merciless climate disasters year after year. These disasters have devastated their homes, social infrastructure and crops, and have denied them their rights to a dignified life, though they had no hand in causing them. Those people are not receiving the support they need to prepare and respond to the climate crisis, and they feel marginalized and unjustly condemned by the world's largest polluters and industrialized nations.I am here to portray their suffering and feelings”, says Jose. 

Fernando Gabriel (19) receives water purification in joint AJOAGO/Oxfam distribution in Guara Guara, Mozambique. Credit:Micas Mondlane/Oxfam

‘Every day we’re supporting people who are already living in extreme poverty and have coped with a higher number of crises over the past two decades. Each disaster is making people poorer by the day and more vulnerable to whatever may come next’, says Jose. We are still grappling with a biting drought in the south, when Idai and the floods struck Sofala and central Mozambique.  

It is increasingly difficult to ensure those hit by the climate disasters can stand up on their own feet again, and to recover from the crisis. “It’s precisely that resilience that we need to build, that’s why it’s important for leaders gathering today to invest in preparedness and resilience activities of those countries most prone to disaster strikes, otherwise it’ll be too late and the toll will be higher,” added Jose.

Saving Lives in harsh conditions

In responding to Cyclone, Jose explains the enormous challenges facing the people, and concerted efforts needed by all humanitarian agencies to rescue the people. “On 18 March, only four days after Cyclone Idai hit central Mozambique, the organization used a boat to assist local authorities in their rescue efforts in the southern shore of the Buzi river, in Sofala province. One thousand lives were saved in the first week alone thanks to AJOAGO’s early action. ‘We were able to intervene quickly because we had pre-positioned stocks thanks to a project that Oxfam financed, which allowed us to buy a boat.’

After the initial rescue efforts, the next stage of the response was about keeping people safe. Large numbers of people got sick for drinking water from the river that was too dirty for use. ‘But people had no choice,’ Jose says. ‘We had to provide them clean water, but transport was a big problem then because the roads were not accessible, with those towns on the other side of the shore of the Buzi river being completely cut off. Slowly but surely, things got better, although now six months after Idai there are still basic needs that people are waiting to be fulfilled. There is a lack of latrines: people use community latrines, but for health reasons, we need better solutions. People are also not used to use a latrine. We need to educate them on how to use it.’ 

Benjamin Jose Nqepa (29, yellow t-shirt) and his extended family in front of his emergency shelter he now calls home. Benjamin, together with his wife and their three children, moved to the Mutua IDP site near Beira nearly a month after cyclone Idai struck their village, about 5km away. Benjamin is a farmer, used to grow rice on a plot of land near the river Pungwe. The cyclone damaged his home and land.Credit: Micas Mondlane/Oxfam

‘Another issue was people going hungry. There is still not enough food for everyone. We try to help by providing seeds, but we are not able to help everyone. Talking to communities allows us to target those who need help the most, and due to limited resources we can only help the ones that have no other alternative for survival. Sometimes we can help 500 out of 3000 people in a community. This is a very tough choice we have to make. As a humanitarian worker, you want to help everyone.’ 

Jose’s journey to setting up AJOAGO started eighteen years ago after another cyclone, Eline, made landfall and killed 700 people and left around 329,000 people left displaced or homeless. Together with other young people who were active in their community, he set up his organization. ‘My family and I were also affected by Eline,’ he says. ‘I knew what it meant to lose everything [and to start from scratch]. That’s why I started helping people with food.”