Cyclone Idai: Helicopters struggle to deliver aid after roads washed off the map

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The aid workers and emergency responders gathering in the central Mozambican city of Beira know exactly what to do when hundreds of thousands of people lack basic necessities like food, shelter and clean water.

The problem in Mozambique is getting the aid to the people who need it.

Helicopters and light aircraft are the only practical way to move supplies in this part of the country because main roads and secondary thoroughfares have been washed out – or lie under metres of dirty, brown floodwater.

However, there are simply not enough helicopters to do the job. I spoke to one highly regarded search and rescue organisation who said they are going home because they cannot get the transport they need.

The team from the World Food Programme have access to a Soviet-era chopper and we flew with them as they prepared to deliver family sized tents, emergency meals and medicines to the people of a community called Nhamatanda.

First, we had to cross the giant inland sea that has been created by Cyclone Idai as well as five-or-so days of torrential rain, and we soon realised that the precipitation has not stopped. Our captain deftly steered around thunder clouds and rain showers as we headed to our destination in the northwest.

The weather wasn’t the only complication. Nhamatanda is surrounded by floodwater and the pilots were struggling to find it. The water had swallowed up all the landmarks on their maps.

With fuel running low the crew had little choice and they decided to return to base.

This is an occupation hazard in a disaster zone and the crew took it in their stride, equipping themselves with a new set of co-ordinates and taking off once more for Nhamatanda.

This time we found it and I could see several residents standing on an ad-hoc landing zone waving homemade flags.

By the time we touched down, thousands of people had arrived to greet us. The excitement was understandable – this was the first aid delivery to reach the community.

“We’re in a really bad situation,” said one woman as she was jostled by the crowd. “We don’t have anything to cover us and everything’s in water, including our food.”

Our helicopter was swiftly unloaded in front of an expectant audience, but it was clear that our cargo was not enough. More than 10,000 families in the area have lost their homes.

“When is the last time you had a proper meal?” I asked a young man called Manucho Jacob.

“It was last week that I had food.”

“Are people angry, are they frustrated?” I inquired.

“They’re angry and they’re disappointed. There’s no hope for them.”

Tomé José is the administrator who runs the district and told me he was feeling the pressure – he simply can’t meet people’s basic needs.

“We need more (aid than this), because we’re not talking only about these residents, but everybody in the district. There are people in other areas we still can’t reach. We can’t bring them food by car.”

Delivering aid by helicopter is not the best solution in a crisis – lorries carry a much bigger load. But in flood-hit Mozambique, this is the only way to keep people alive.

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(c) Sky News 2019: Cyclone Idai: Helicopters struggle to deliver aid after roads washed off the map

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