In March 2019, Cyclone Idai ripped through central Mozambique, flattening the port city of Beira and tearing a swathe of destruction all the way to the Chimanimani escarpment in Zimbabwe. The resulting flooding caused even more misery and thousands died. Galvanised by an appeal for help from Gorongosa National Park, we were soon on the road north, in the same three Land Rovers that had just completed the Cape Town to Kathmandu expedition.
Malaria is the leading cause of death in Mozambique, which has the third highest number of malaria cases anywhere in the world. So we made the decision to concentrate on malaria prevention and water purification supplies to help the hard-hit communities around Gorongosa National Park, inland from Beira. 300,000 people living around the Park, especially those near the Pungwe River that flows along the Park’s boundary were in the direct path of Cyclone Idai and vast areas were still under water – a perfect breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
It was quite apt that we left on World Malaria Day after an expedition send-off at Moz-am-bik Restaurant in Ballito, home to Amina, the handcrafted wooden Swahili sailing dhow that we once sailed all the way up the east coast of Africa on our African Rainbow ‘One Net-One Life’ malaria prevention expedition.
Four days later, a Bush Note from the expedition journal reads: ‘Sopping wet last night as furious rain beat down on the flysheets of our tents. As if Mozambique isn’t having enough with battling to recover from the devastation of Cyclone Idai, now the north is reeling from the massive flooding caused by Cyclone Kenneth. Today as more rain clouds gather overhead, our convoy of expedition Land Rovers and trucks head to Gorongosa.’
It was a massive team effort and we say a huge thanks to Rotary for their logistical support and to Coca Cola Mozambique for providing one of their big trucks to deliver the enormous consignment of 15 tonnes of life-saving mosquito nets, malaria medication and drums of clean drinking water to the big Flood Relief tent at the turn off to Gorongosa National Park. From there, a convoy of smaller Goodbye Malaria trucks joined our heavily-loaded expedition Land Rovers to move the relief items closer to the affected communities, over broken roads and a washed-away track around a half-destroyed bridge; the brutal force of the flood waters had smashed into the high riverbanks and left the bridge stranded in a sea of mud and boulders.
Over the following days, we were hard at it, assisting the Gorongosa community health teams in the affected villages – every single pregnant woman and mothers of small children receiving insecticide-treated bed-nets – and handing out containers of clean drinking water. Then it was by boat across the Pungwe River, trekking through mud and fields of flood-destroyed crops, and loading bales of mosquito nets and water onto bicycles to reach other communities.
Dr Pedro Vidamao, the Park’s community doctor told us: “This work you are helping us with is really important. The cyclone and the resultant flooding caused much misery and a massive increase in malaria and cholera cases. Thank you also for all the malaria test kits and boxes of medication – they too will save many lives.”
It’s a humbling experience for our team. These communities lost almost everything – not just their homes and crops, but also cooking pots, farming tools, livestock and food set aside for the winter months –and children are now having school lessons under a tree, as their classrooms were severely damaged by the hurricane-force winds. Yet they are still able to smile. Fortunately and thanks to magnificent work by Gorongosa National Park, all these villages, initially by helicopter drops and then by rangers on foot, have received emergency food supplies, seeds for new crops, and now malaria prevention supplies and more clean drinking water. It’s a fine example of conservation caring for communities.
Many thanks to Land Rover, Barrows, Goodbye Malaria, Cooper Tires, 4×4 Megaworld, Moz-am-bik Restaurants, Gorongosa National Park and all others who supported this mission; and to all the other organisations still working hard to help the thousands of victims affected by the worst weather-related humanitarian disaster in Southern Africa in over a century.