Cyclones Idai and Kenneth: Strength Through Adversity

by Jordyn Stinar, Kevin Malone, Benjamin Cook, Eleanor Walker, Emily McIntosh, and Leah Beecher

The beginning of our research began with a group discussion regarding the research we have found about several cyclones and typhoons. Interestingly enough, each of the researched storms were all regarded as “the deadliest” for the region it touched. After our discussion, we decided to focus our expenditure of energy on a cyclone known as Cyclone Idai which was the deadliest Cyclone that has hit Africa. The origins of Cyclone Idai began March 3rd, 2019 as a “tropical disturbance” in the Mozambique channel which is located between Mozambique and Madagascar. Storms that are located in this area don’t typically strengthen; however due to the nature of the warm waters, Cyclone Idai did get stronger. At this time the cyclone was regarded as Tropical Depression 11 (meaning it was the 11th tropical depression). A tropical depression according to NASA is “formed when a low pressure area is accompanied by thunderstorms that produce a circular wind flow with maximum sustained winds below 39 mph” (NASA). The difference between a tropical storm and a tropical depression is that a tropical storm occurs when the cyclonic circulation becomes more organized with maximum sustained wind gusts between 39 and 73 mph. As the storm got nearer to the African coast on March 5th, it caused heavy rains in Mozambique and Malawi, which resulted in severe flooding in these areas. Over the next few days this storm maintained its status as Tropical Depression 11 as it made its way over land. However, something interesting occurred in which Tropical Depression 11 “performed a counterclockwise loop near the border of Malawi and Mozambique, before turning eastward and re-emerging into the Mozambique Channel, early on March 9th”(Wikipedia). This fact was something that intrigued us as a group because we weren’t quite sure what this meteorological terminology meant. Upon further research it simply just meant the pathway of the tropical storm changed. Tropical Depression 11 continued through March 11th, and on March 14th, Tropical Depression 11 turned into Tropical Cyclone Idai. This cyclone made landfall near Beira, Mozambique as a Category 2 storm, with winds exceeding 105 mph on March 14th (World Vision).

After many prayers by the affected citizens, the storm dissipated March 21st. Between that time to the 27th, governments and humanitarian aid began their response procedures with life-saving relief supplies to the affected areas which included family-sized tents, blankets, mosquito nets, as well as clean food and water. After a week of rescuers looking for survivors, the Mozambique government decided to call off the search for survivors. Personally intrigued as to why the government decided to call off the search for survivors, I researched information but couldn’t find too much information regarding the situation. It’s baffling to our group that this call was made so soon as more time could’ve been spent helping the affected citizens. As a group we considered what the implications could possibly be in the staggering difference of numbers of confirmed people killed from Cyclone Idai: 1,593 versus the number missing, i.e. presumed dead: 2,262. In our initial investigation of cyclones and typhoons the number of confirmed deaths usually exceeds the number of those missing. However, in this natural disaster the opposite was true. Roughly, forty percent more people were confirmed missing, than confirmed dead. A quick overview of the social structure of Mozambique reveals that within the country’s rural population tribal lines and allegiances are still honored. Every nation has its social structure which is reflected, though not always spoken of, in direct policy. In fact, “Most Mozambicans see themselves primarily as members of their ethnic group, and only marginally as members of the nation” ( Our group theorized that this lack of national cohesiveness may account for the seemingly premature hault of search and rescue and the high number of missing persons.

Through our research on Cyclone Idai, our group discovered that six weeks later, another devastating cyclone known as Cyclone Kenneth had hit the same region. This would be the first time in history that two strong tropical storms have hit the same region. Cyclone Kenneth originated “north of Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel. Fed by warm ocean temperatures, it strengthened from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm in the 24 hours ahead of making landfall [on Pemba, Mozambique] April 25” (World Vision). This double event of storms affected many areas including but not limited to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. 

The Republic of Mozambique is located in southeastern Africa with a coast on the Indian ocean. Mozambique is home to around 32 million people who are predominantly Bantu.The Bantu people are not a homogeneous group but rather refers to a language group. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “approximately 85 million speakers of the more than 500 distinct languages”, and Mozambique is just one country of many that the Bantus call home. Although Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, there is still a strong trading relationship between the two countries. Mozambique is quite rich in natural resources, especially with its coastline. The country as a whole is still quite underdeveloped with two thirds of the nation living in poverty. Although the majority of people in Mozambique are Christian, the second largest religious following are traditional African faiths. 

The cyclone’s impact on the people of Mozambique started when a meteorological office in the area issued a weather alert beginning three days before the storm. The alert warned people in high risk areas to evacuate. According to an article written by Internet Geography, many people in rural areas that were suggested to evacuate either did not listen to the warnings or didn’t receive them in the first place (sec. 3). Flooding and heavy rain hit the country hard. According to Internet Geography, 90% of the coastal city Beira was destroyed, along with a year’s worth of crops. Thousands of people were left without necessary resources such as clean water, food, plumbing, and shelter. Outbreaks of cholera were sweeping through those affected by the storm. There were more than 4,000 confirmed cases and seven fatalities by April 10th. Women and girls can encounter a different kind of post-clones suffering. Mothers had to travel to find work, leaving young children to take on a more parental role and leading them to drop out of school. “Mozambique is a source, transit, and, to a lesser extent, destination country for men, women and children who are trafficked into forced labor and sexual slavery”, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons report. “Children are often forced to work in sectors such as farming and mining. Women and girls are often lured to cities in Mozambique or South Africa with promises of employment, only to be sold into domestic or sexual servitude. Furthermore,  “post-disaster trafficking has become common in developing nations as an increase in extreme events caused by global warming leaves the already poor even more vulnerable. Mozambique is already among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest rates of child marriage – around 48 percent of girls are married before 18,” said Anne Hoff, Plan International’s Country Director in Mozambique. “We do know that when there is a drought and there is a lack of food, we tend to see an increase in early marriages. There is a high risk it could happen as the crops have been destroyed and it will be very difficult for people to recover.” “Children in Mozambique are among the most deprived children in the world. According to the 2017 census children constitute more than half of the 28 million population. It is estimated that 6.1 million households are headed by children (12-14 years). There are about 2 million orphans and vulnerable children. Only 47% of students complete primary school. This figure is higher for girls due to school based sexual harassment and abuse, early pregnancy, high rates of early marriage, and the lack of gender sensitive sanitation facilities at schools” concludes Hoff. 

            In short, when there is  a combined high rate of both poverty and a high population of children, natural disasters only exacerbate the victimizing of children. Recalling the work, Echo in the Bones by Joseph Roach, he drew this conclusion, “because it appears to make available a human super abundance for mutual assimilation and at this promising yet dangerous juncture catastrophe may re emerge from memory in the shape of a wish”. The cynical observer could conclude that an excess of poor, rural, orphaned children in a country with dire economic problems, is a human traffickers dream come true. And these children will not find many advocates. 

The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked nation located in southeastern Africa bordering Mozambique. Zimbabwe was previously known as Rhodesia, an unrecognized successor of British rule, which maintained a government that was predominantly white. After a 15 year civil war, the republic was recognized as independent. Unfortunately Zimbabwe is fraught with political instability even into the present day. Zimbabwe also suffers economically, with hyperinflation being an everyday reality for the majority of Zimbabweans. According to Macrotrends, “Zimbabwe poverty rate for 2019 was 85.00%” , highlights how unprepared both the government and people of Zimbabwe were for both cyclones. 

Oxfam, an independent charitable organization, lists responses and good practices for hundreds of Zimbabwe locals who were affected by the storm. The organization informed people that “Locals and outsiders worked closely together to respond to the catastrophe. Their responses covered a wide range of activities, including: counseling and psychological support, casework and child protection support, orphan care, and family tracing; food and non-food item distribution…; dedicated investment of long working hours in the field and in meetings by local civil servants; educational assistance to children, including establishing safe spaces; health, HIV and AIDS, and water, sanitation and hygiene responses.” The organization also observed a general empathy from the public towards survivors of the cyclone including proactive distribution of medicine to help cholera and measles outbreaks. 

The Republic of Malawi is another landlocked country within southeastern Africa. Malawi was previously a British colony, gaining independence in 1966. The Bantu people also call Malawi home as well other ethnic groups such as the Chewa, Tumbuka, Lomwe, and the Yao. Most Malawians are Christian with over ⅘ of the nation being a part of the faith. According to The World Bank, the majority of Malawi’s economy is agrarian, “which employs over 80% of the population”, unfortunately agriculture is at risk to extreme climates such as in the case of Cyclone Idai and Kenneth. According to information from, Malawi was experiencing a year of drought before Cyclone Idai hit the area. Similar to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Malawi was heavily affected by flooding following Idai and Kenneth, hurting almost 1 million people (Humanitarian Coalition) About 94% of households in Nsanje and approximately 70% of households in Mangochi, a main city and a township in Malawi respectively, were affected ( Widespread flooding washed out bridges, roads, and homes, rising waters destroyed dams, second landfall took 2 hydroelectric power plants offline, left 125,382 people homeless, 577 injured, 60 dead. The storms also took a toll on sanitation facilities. With the spread of disease being such a large issue, and causing more deaths even with the cyclones passing, it became the main goal for humanitarian organizations to fix. The UNICEF website says that its clinics have provided healthcare to over 30,000 people.

One year later Cyclone Idai and the following Cyclone Kenneth are continuing to shape people’s lives. As of March 2020, over 100,000 people are still living in shelters and 16.7 million people across the region are faced with food insecurity. Just a few months after Idai and Kenneth first hit Mozambique in March and April 2019, resettlement sites were overwhelmed by more heavy rain and flooding, destroying 3,676 shelters. Idai’s environmental impact on farmland including flooding is making replanting crops more difficult still. 

With all of this devastation, people need a way to express what they have been through. Artistic expressions coming in the wake of tragic events is not a strange or new occurrence. Often traumatic events can be the catalyst for some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking art pieces. Art is not just something created by high level artisans, art can be seen as any form of creative expression, by anyone of any skill level. The artistic pieces that came in the wake of cyclonic storm Idai are no exception, we found extremely moving pieces created by both untrained artists and professionals. In fact, we found that one of the most moving art pieces was created by a child.

At first glance one might disregard the piece as just being a crude child’s drawing, but when you look further into the piece it really becomes an insightful look at the way children viewed the storm. First of all, the drawing is entirely black, white, blue, and red. These colors do a great job illustrating how little color there seems to be. The whole setting looks extremely dreary, it shows the awful conditions his home was reduced to, his house looking to be half blue and half torn down black and gray. Then on top of the dreary background, the use of red creates a striking contrast that shows how brutal the storm was. The red is used to show the blood on a decapitated woman. This depiction of the decapitation and of his destroyed home bring forward the idea of effigy. This drawing is a sort of model depicting reality that might have some cathartic effect for the artist. It is a horrific and brutal depiction of the storm’s aftermath and is only more moving because of the artist being a child. This piece is helpful in showing the way that storms in Mozambique affect the local population. Mozambique is no stranger to cyclones and powerful storms, and this art piece helps show the way that the storms affect the people from a very young age. The storms come so frequently and hit so hard that the people’s lives and personalities are shaped from them. Another point that illustrates this comes from a painting depicting a satellite view of Cyclone Idai.

Part of what makes this piece a perfect example of how the storms affect people’s culture is through a quote from the artist, Richard McDowell “The visual appeal of radar imagery illustrates the beauty in destruction.” The idea of finding beauty in destruction is a mindset that some people must have to develop when a storm hits. Much of the art that has come in the wake of Idai other than drawings and paintings is poetry. Near the beginning of Cyclone Idai-The Poem, by Masimba Mukichi, it says “Yes we’re grieving, yes we’re hurting.” Then by the end of the poem it goes on to say ”Woohoo you’ll never defeat us, the human race, the cream of the crop. What kill us make us stronger, we’ll strike back with a vengeance.” This is a very powerful change. Clearly the poem is acknowledging the severity of the sadness and destruction that Idai brought, however it ends with hope. Mukichi is spreading a message of hope, that there is no way to give up, that the storm will never fully destroy them and they will rebuild. This message invokes the concept of the dirge and the second line, popular in New Orleans culture. This concept is found in nearly every poem we found in reference to Cyclone Idai. From Beyond Cyclone Idai by Onesmus “Out of these troubled waters up you shall rise, every tragedy gives birth to blessings in disguise, as dark clouds disappear, a rainbow fills out the skies.” This again has a hopeful message that invokes the dirge and the second line. There is an acknowledgement of the tragedy, but also a hope and celebration of the future, out of the tragedy. The concept dirge and the second line do a great job explaining the resilience of the people of Mozambique and all areas affected by Cyclone Idai. The people there have been subject to numerous cyclonic storms that have destroyed their homes, but yet they persevere. Every time the world tries to knock them down, they get right back up. Cyclone Idai and other cyclonic storms played a huge role in shaping the lives and culture of the people of Mozambique and surrounding areas.

In our research of how to gauge the impact of Cyclone Idai we found an amazingly exhaustive document titled Mozambique Cyclone Idai: Post Disaster Needs Assessment. Here is its introduction:

The post-disaster assessment was conducted under the leadership of the Government, through the Post- Cyclone Idai Cabinet for Reconstruction, and supported by a global partnership that included the World Bank, the United Nations System and the European Union (EU), using the internationally recognized Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) methodology. This assessment counted on the participation of more than one hundred government staff members from all affected regions, who participated in the training program on the use of this methodology. 

This was compiled in May of 2019; quite soon, considering Idai hit the mainland on March 11th, 2019. One the last day of our group collaborating we noted that we were each having a difficult time finding anything substantial information about the state of Mozambique presently. Our discussion noted how once the “headline grabbing” news of Cyclone Idai passed, any casual searching for information on the Mozambique people proved fruitless. The future of these countries are much like Dido’s Lament, “Remember me, but ah forget my fate”, in the sense that the world looked upon southeastern African and showed them support when the cyclones initially hit but now the world has forgotten the people of Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. The world has forgotten how the people of these countries suffered and continue to do so due to the long lasting effects of the cyclones. Through experiencing so many tropical storms, the culture and identity of these people have been shaped in a unique way. Much like how a cyclone follows a path, the support for these countries have also tapered off and has come to its end as well. Their resilience is admirable, they’re constantly rebuilding and fighting against nature and the government in the ways that have hurt them. But regardless of what they face they persevere. The World could learn so much from these countries and the people in them as they have gained so much strength through the adversity faced.

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