A mother and her two children shelter in a primary school in central Mozambique after they lost their home to Cyclone Freddy.
Emergency Response

UNICEF Mobilizes Relief Efforts After Cyclone Freddy Slams Mozambique, Malawi

With vulnerable families and communities reeling in the wake of a devastating tropical cyclone, UNICEF is on the ground working with partners to provide lifesaving supplies and other humanitarian assistance.

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The latest weather disaster in a series of climate shocks for southeast Africa

Mozambique continues to suffer with the return of the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever recorded, Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which made landfall in the country for a second time on March 12, the latest in a series of extreme-weather related climate shocks for southeast Africa.

Freddy first hit the town of Vilanculos on Feb. 24, bringing strong winds, heavy rains and high seas, wreaking havoc on the coastal community and endangering children and families. 

Parts of Malawi have also been affected. At least 225 people have died, many homes have been destroyed, and damage to roads has made affected areas difficult to access, Heinrich Mutsinzi Rukundo, Education Specialist for UNICEF Malawi, told MSNBC. Schools have been closed or repurposed as shelters for the displaced. Health centers are damaged and in some cases shuttered, Rukundo said.

In the wake of Cyclone Freddy UNICEF provides partners with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) supplies for distribution to affected families.
At Manja Camp in Blantyre, Malawi, families affected by Cyclone Freddy receive water, sanitation and hygiene supplies provided by UNICEF. © UNICEF/UN0802853/

The situation has increased risks of cholera and other waterborne diseases, which tend to gain traction in the wake of disasters like this as access to safe water becomes limited. Both Malawi and Mozambique were already fighting cholera outbreaks before Freddy; disaster conditions only complicate prevention and containment measures.

UNICEF spokesperson Guy Taylor was on the ground in Quelimane, in east coastal Mozambique, when the storm hit.

"That was a pretty terrifying experience," Taylor said from Maputo in an interview with The World, during which he described extremely strong winds and heavy rains that toppled trees and tore roofs off buildings, schools and hospitals.

Education disrupted as damaged schools close, others become shelters

Out in the countryside, Taylor said, where many people live in structures made of wood, mud or adobe, the situation was even more serious, with many homes completely destroyed by flooding and mudslides.

Early reports suggest that more than 16,000 homes have been partially or full destroyed in Quelimane and surrounding areas.

An estimated 600 classrooms have been either partially or completely destroyed as well, Taylor noted.

"This is of huge concern for us at UNICEF, children being cut off from education for potentially prolonged periods of time," Taylor said.

A drone shot dated March 13, 2023 of the city of Quelimane, in Zambezia province, Mozambique, showing the enormous impact and devastation caused by Cyclone Freddy.
A drone shot dated March 13, 2023 of the city of Quelimane, in Zambezia province, Mozambique, showing the enormous impact and devastation caused by Cyclone Freddy. © UNICEF/UN0801710/Zuniga

To support the emergency response, UNICEF is mobilizing critical supplies like safe drinking water and water purification supplies, medical supplies, tents and hygiene kits; coordinating with local partners to keep children safe and protected and to get them back to learning as quickly as possible; and continuing to support anti-cholera efforts.

UNICEF priority in Mozambique: building climate resilience

Taylor spoke to how Mozambique’s vulnerabilities steer UNICEF’s work in the country.

"Mozambique is really bearing the brunt of extreme weather and of manmade climate change,” he said. “Mozambique is hit, well, really on an annual basis by these tropical storms and tropical cyclones, and all the science suggests they are getting more and more serious. ... The people of Mozambique are really bearing the brunt of climate change here, to which they contributed very little."

"For example: we construct schools that can stand up to this kind of storm, so they won't get blown down. Making sure health care centers and health facilities are also built to withstand this kind of impact, but it really is a challenge. It is very difficult for a country like Mozambique to be resilient against such a constant barrage of climate impacts."

Two sisters, Dercia, 12, and Dusma, 10, standing amidst the wreckage of their flooded village located 35 km outside the city of Quelimane, Mozambique, on March 13, 2023, the day after Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall a second time.
School is closed for the time being for sisters Dercia, 12, and Dusma, 10. Their family's village, located about 20 miles outside the city of Quelimane, Mozambique, flooded when Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall a second time on March 12. The girls say they are sad they are unable to go to class. © UNICEF/UN0801964/Zuniga

An estimated 1 billion children worldwide are at extremely high risk due to climate impacts, including climate-related disasters. These include extreme weather events, which have grown more intense and more frequent as a result of climate change.

Every year, UNICEF responds to hundreds of emergencies in dozens of countries. Your unrestricted contribution helps UNICEF stay at the ready to help children when they need it most. Please donate.


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TOP PHOTO: A mother and her two sons were among the hundreds of families who have taken shelter inside Manhaua Primary School in Mozambique after losing their homes to strong winds and floods caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy after it made landfall a second time on March 12, 2023. © UNICEF/UN0801981/Zuniga