Hope and Healing

New Study Finds People with Disabilities Left Behind in Wake of Cyclone Idai

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On March 15, 2019, Cyclone Idai’s torrential rains, winds, and mudslides killed more than 1,000 people and wiped out farmland and hundreds of thousands of homes in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi on rampage. In the days that followed, the UN estimated 1.85 million people urgently needed emergency humanitarian assistance – but these numbers only indicated those physically able to get to safety.

Hope and Healing International was concerned with the lack of data around those with disabilities. We knew that those who can’t see the way to safety, move their wheelchairs through floodwaters, or those who can’t hear the warning signs around them, are most vulnerable in natural disasters. Many can’t get to food and water distribution points at all, and those who do, are less able to fight for limited essential supplies and services in the crushing, desperate crowds.

White Baisoni, a survivor of Cyclone Idai with a disability, reported: “We have been here [at one of the displaced persons’ camps] for some days but we are being accommodated in open spaces. Moreover, we are hardly given food. For instance, yesterday, we were given a cup of rice each and some of our colleagues with disabilities went away with nothing and slept on an empty stomach.”

As a result of the lack of support for people with disabilities, we worked with Jairos Jiri Association in Zimbabwe and MACOHA in Malawi to conduct emergency rapid assessments across four wards in eastern Zimbabwe and 14 districts in southern Malawi, as these areas were severely affected by mudslides and/or floods triggered by Cyclone Idai.

The goals of the mixed method assessment were: to identify survivors with disabilities and their families; to determine the scale of the need; and to gather information about how these families were affected by the cyclone. The findings were to cover the gap of information available to the public about people with disabilities in the cyclone’s aftermath. At the same time, together with our partners we wanted to plan and deliver effective relief and recovery services to children and families too often forgotten by the rest of the world.

The assessment identified 4,831 children and adults with disabilities in the surveyed wards and districts in Zimbabwe and Malawi. Data indicated that many of these people are not able to access relief aid and are not being captured in broader government and non-government surveys:

  • Persons with disabilities reported others being left behind during initial rescue and evacuations
  • 66% of families with a member affected by disability in Zimbabwe reported damage to shelter that can be repaired, while 18% reported destruction beyond repair
  • 7% reported that their crops and arable land were destroyed
  • 7% of people with disabilities reported losing their livelihoods to the cyclone, while only 21.8% said they had a consistent source of income
  • Many reported that the cyclone destroyed their assistive devices
  • Persons with albinism mentioned the lack of security in the camps as they are living in fear within the open spaces provided by the government.

We believe that our assessment report provides important and compelling evidence to address the unique needs of impoverished families with disabilities. We see our role as providing specialized services for this marginalized group of survivors. We also collaborate with other agencies in delivering humanitarian relief, so no one is forgotten in disasters.

“The rapid assessment will be used by us and our partners to determine what efforts are needed, where we should focus and for whom,” explained our Executive Director, Ed Epp. “The report will also be shared with other humanitarian relief organizations, so we can ensure all efforts are inclusive.”