03 Jun 2019 Story Disasters & conflicts

Lessons in the aftermath of cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique

Photo by Denis Onyodi: IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre

Between March and April 2019, two devastating cyclones hit the coast of Mozambique. Only six weeks apart, tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth killed hundreds of people and left 1.85 million more stranded with no homes, food, water or basic infrastructure.

On 31 May and 1 June 2019, the city of Beira, one of the areas worst hit by the cyclones, hosted an international conference to secure support for reconstruction efforts. About 700 participants from international organizations, humanitarian and development partners, private sector and civil society organizations attended the event together with Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi and senior Mozambican officials.

The devastation caused by the cyclones was yet another reminder on human vulnerability to climate-related disasters. Photo by Denis Onyodi: IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre

In the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, and further to a request for international assistance from the Government of Mozambique, the UN Environment/Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Joint Unit deployed Dutch hydrologist Gerhard Winters to support national and local authorities on dam-related water resources management, as part of a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team dispatched to the country.

A second Dutch expert, Jeroen Helder, was deployed as part of a second wave of support, just before cyclone Kenneth made landfall. Both experts were mobilized through the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism.

Opportunities and challenges

Muda Dam, which has a capacity of about 56 million m3 of water experienced erosion of the spill way due to heavy rainfall after the cyclone. However, the earth dam structure was not destroyed but some sections may need to be repaired. Photo by Gerhard Winters

“There was great organization from the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team and the Mozambican authorities were very keen to support my mission,” says Winters. “At the same time, many places were difficult to access due to the devastation of internal transport networks by the floods.”

Remote support proved to be essential to overcome some of the access constraints and contributed to rapid processing of information. “The European Commission’s Joint Research Center produced good modelling scenarios on the potential impact of the floods, with a focus on the affected dams, and the Dutch Surge Support (DSS Water) ensured remote support for collecting, processing and analyzing data from the field,” he adds.

Building in major risk factors is key

“From what I have observed in Mozambique and elsewhere, there is a need for a holistic approach to spatial planning by factoring in the potential impact of storms such as Idai and Kenneth,” continues Winter. “While on paper a country may appear well prepared with good water management plans, these can be hampered by a lack of funds for spatial planning or building of dykes. In countries with vast territories such as Mozambique, reaching remote villages can be particularly difficult.”

Focus on resilient infrastructure

There was erosion along the Nhamatanda road due to floods after the cyclone. Temporary bridges are being constructed and complete road reconstruction is necessary. Photo by Gerhard Winters

Hydrologist Jeroen Helder, who was deployed to the country after Winters completed his assessment, adds: “Creating awareness on flood prevention and management is very important. During the reconstruction phase, there will be a need to rebuild the damaged infrastructure using risk-informed designs to avoid recurrence of similar damage.”

“From Beira to the mainland, bridges were washed away, and getting supplies to the inland areas was a challenge,” he continues. “However, a much older railway bridge withstood the storm. The rebuilding process should draw lessons from such infrastructure.

“We also need to be aware that with climate change there could further damage and Mozambique also needs to build an early warning, awareness-raising and preparedness system for residents of disaster-prone areas.”


The Joint Environment Unit of the UN Environment/Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is a partnership that pairs the environmental expertise of UN Environment and the humanitarian mandate of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The unit addresses the environmental impacts of sudden-onset disasters and accidents by coordinating international efforts and mobilizing response partners. It supports countries requesting assistance in preparedness and response to environmental emergencies, in addition to promoting the overall environmental sustainability of humanitarian action.

The unit can count on an extensive roster of partner organizations, liaising closely with UN agencies, programmes and affiliated organizations, as well as regional organizations and Member States. Private sector, academic and research institutions are also well represented among the unit’s partners.

For further information on the mission, please contact Margherita Fanchiotti ([email protected]).

Learn more about the work of the unit.

Learn more about UN Environment’s work on the environmental causes and consequences of disasters and conflicts.