Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa 2019 | ActionAid UK

Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa 2019

In March 2019, a devastating cyclone made landfall in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Cyclone Idai is possibly the worst weather-related disaster to ever hit the southern hemisphere killing over 1,000 people and leaving 400,000 without a home. 

Flooding remains severe and there is a high risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases, but the full scale of the disaster is still unfolding.

ActionAid has a strong presence in Southern Africa and was able to respond to the crisis immediately.

Find out below what a cyclone is, how the cyclone affected people on the ground and what ActionAid is doing to help. 

You can also donate to our Cyclone Idai appeal, so we can reach as many people as possible in Southern Africa.

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Cyclone Idai: facts and figures

When did the cyclone occur? 

On Thursday 14th March 2019 Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique. 

Between 15th and 16th March 2019 it moved inland and passed through Zimbabwe. Heavy rains caused extensive flooding in Malawi.

On 25th April 2019, just five weeks after Cyclone Idai, Mozambique was hit with another cyclone. Cyclone Kenneth was the strongest ever cyclone to hit the southern African country with winds measuring at 140mph.

Where did the cyclone happen?

The affected countries were Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. 

In Mozambique, widespread damage was reported in Beira City in Sofala province; Manica and Zambezia provinces were also severely affected.

In Zimbabwe, the worst affected areas were the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts in Manicaland Province.

Strong winds and widespread flooding ripped apart roads, bridges, houses, schools, health facilities and submerged vast areas of agricultural land.



What is a cyclone?

Like a hurricane and typhoon, a cyclone is a severe type of tropical storm. They are broadly the same, but are called different names based on where in the world they appear. 

What is a tropical storm?

A tropical storm is a localised, very intense low-pressure wind system, forming over tropical oceans.

In its weaker form it is known as a ‘tropical depression’. But if it intensifies, and maximum sustained winds reach 39 mph, the depression becomes known as a ‘tropical storm’.

Then, if it reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 mph, the storm is classified as a hurricane, typhoon or tropical cyclone — depending on where in the world it originated.

What is the difference between a cyclone, typhoon and a hurricane?

  • Cyclones are formed over the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

  • Hurricanes are tropical storms that form over the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific.

  • Typhoons are formed over the Northwest Pacific Ocean.

How exactly do cyclones cause damage?

Cyclones are mainly associated with the strong, destructive winds that cause extensive property damage and deforestation. The resultant debris is dangerous as it becomes airborne.

The strong winds can also cause large waves of up to 15 metres high, which are hazardous to shipping. Storm surges, typically 2 to 5 metres above sea level, cause extensive flooding and damage in coastal regions, and often death by drowning.

Cyclones can also pick up two billion tons of moisture per day and release it as heavy rain. This also leads to extensive flooding, often not only in coastal regions but well inland from where the cyclone made landfall. 

Finally, cyclones sometimes spawn tornadoes as they hit land, which can cause extreme wind damage.

What was the scale of the damage from Cyclone Idai?

  • Cyclone Idai affected over two million people, including 1.5 million in Mozambique - the worst hit country.
  • Over 1,000 people lost their lives in the three countries.
  • Over 400,000 people are left without a home and are living in camps, schools and churches.
  • An estimated 5,897 cases of cholera and 10,689 cases of malaria have been reported in Mozambique.

Heavy rains after Cyclone Idai resulted in severe flooding in Mozambique.

Heavy rains caused by Cyclone Idai resulted in severe flooding in Mozambique.


What was ActionAid’s response?

ActionAid’s initial response included distributing food, blankets, water sterilising tablets, shelter, clothes, mosquito nets and sanitary protection for women and girls in the three countries.

Initial emergency response 

  • In Mozambique, ActionAid distributed sanitary kits, school books and established women-friendly spaces.
  • In Zimbabwe, ActionAid provided thousands of kilograms of food and cooking oil, distributed sanitary pads, underwear packs, towels and soap. 
  • In Malawi, ActionAid reached around 12,700 people with our initial rapid response. We worked with local women’s forums to ensure the protection of women and girls in evacuation camps, and distributing food, lamps, utensils, sleeping mats, soap and mosquito nets.

Long-term response:

  • In Mozambique, ActionAid is training women in farming to support their livelihoods and there are plans to distribute agricultural tools to 2,000 people. 
  • ActionAid has started to repair and rebuild schools and reconstruct shelters for affected people in all three countries. 





Page updated 14 May 2019