Residents stand on rooftops in a flooded area of Buzi, central Mozambique, on March 20, 2019, after the passage of cyclone Idai. (AFP/Adrien Barbier)
Residents stand on rooftops in a flooded area of Buzi, central Mozambique, on March 20, 2019, after the passage of cyclone Idai. (AFP/Adrien Barbier)

CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa

Tropical Cyclone Idai made landfall during the night of March 14 and 15 in the Sofala province of Mozambique. The storm continued inland, causing flooding across Mozambique and parts of Zimbabwe and Malawi. The port city of Beira, Mozambique’s fourth largest city, has been flattened and the humanitarian crisis is acute, according to news reports. President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique said in a televised address that the death toll could be over 1,000.

As the scale of the damage is becoming apparent, CPJ is aware that a number of regional and international journalists are trying to gain access to the affected areas, and to Beira in particular. Journalists traveling or planning to travel to the affected regions need to:

  • Be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least five days;
  • Bring enough food, water, and supplies to survive without external support;
  • Know that logistics and hygiene will be serious challenges.

Satellite communications are a must, as mobile communications were seriously affected. Due to a lack of accommodation, it is advisable that journalists bring sleeping bags and tents.

For more information on how to operate in disaster zones, journalists should consult CPJ’s Safety Note on Natural Disasters and Extreme Weather.

There are severe access constraints to the region affected by Tropical Cyclone Idai due to the flooding and devastation. The World Food Programme has released this map highlighting the road and air access points as of March 20.

Roads have been washed out through the region; however, Beira’s airport has resumed operations on March 17, according to a report from the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC). The ETC–a network of organizations that provides communications services during a humanitarian crisis–also reported that the Mozambique Aviation Authority is guaranteeing minimum safety conditions with regards to Beira Airport, with the runway unaffected. However, weather and radio communications have been damaged. HP Risk Management, which supports CPJ and a number of news organizations, has been told by journalists that there are some flights to Beira from Johannesburg and that the UN Humanitarian Air Service is trying to establish an operations center at Chimio.

According to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Beira has been extensively damaged, with major hospitals sustaining significant damage. This part of Mozambique already relies on support from international aid agencies, and some water purification and food supplies have been lost.

Beira has no electricity and communications are recovering but are not reliable, according to the ETC. Beira airport has a connectivity hub for humanitarian services. Satellite communications are also unreliable.

The Mozambican National Institute of Metrology is predicting ongoing thunderstorms in the Beira and Chimio localities.

On March 17, OCHA reported that Eastern Zimbabwe has also been affected, with flash flooding in the provinces of Chimanimani and Chipinge districts with roads and bridges severely damaged. Rain continues to fall in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces of Zimbabwe. Malawi had already been affected by flooding before the cyclone hit. The Assessment Capacities Project, a nonprofit that supports NGOs with information during disasters, is reporting that in the last seven days, the number of people affected has increased by nearly 450,000. Fourteen districts across the south and center of the country have been affected by flooding during the last week.

Journalists requiring assistance should contact CPJ via [email protected].

CPJ’s online Safety Kit provides journalists and newsrooms with basic safety information on physical, digital, and psychological safety resources and tools.