Millions in need as ‘everything is destroyed’

Crisis: The United Nations called Cyclone Idai “a massive disaster” affecting millions of people.

“Tell the world we are suffering,” say the people of Mozambique after more than a week of devastating floods and winds. Yet the world does not seem to be hearing the message. How can this be?

On the morning of Tuesday, March 12, nine days ago today, the website of one of the world’s biggest newspapers, The Washington Post, reported that the African country Mozambique was braced for 120 mph winds carrying a foot of rainfall.

Cyclone Idai had formed over the sea two days earlier. Within 24 hours, winds had exploded from 45 mph to 105 mph. By Tuesday it was a raging destroyer, equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

Mozambique’s 29 million citizens are among the poorest in the world. Both it and its neighbours Malawi and Zimbabwe are notoriously vulnerable to both drought and flooding. Ten years ago the World Bank warned of the danger from a cyclone. What was about to happen was obvious.

And yet, when calamity struck there was relative silence. It was not until yesterday that Idai made the front page of a single UK newspaper — The Guardian.

By then, an apocalyptic event had taken place. Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city, had been pulverised by a wall of water, in places 19 feet high.

The World Meteorological Organisation had named it the worst ever cyclone in the southern hemisphere. Mozambique had estimated over 1,000 deaths. In Zimbabwe, the official toll was 98; in Malawi, 56.

“Everything is destroyed, everything,” said the World Food Program. And 2.6 million people need immediate rescue.

Experts are saying the lack of global attention is shocking but predictable. Africa is often ignored in the global conversation. Onlookers are numbed by large tragedies and get “compassion fatigue”.

Professor of journalism Roy Greenslade says the media has a “hierarchy of death”. The criteria are: foreign deaths always rank below domestic deaths; deaths in ongoing conflicts always receive less coverage than unexpected deaths elsewhere; and deaths of non-white people in foreign countries are never given equal status by the white, Western media.

“By virtue of their religion and their ethnicity they cannot expect the same treatment as the people in the West (who, of course, are also more civilised, better educated and altogether more wholesome). In other words, it’s racist.”

Double standards

How does Western reporting on Africa get away with it? This sort of disgraceful work would get you fired in no time if covering, say, another European country. How come most media organisations only have one correspondent for an entire continent of 11 million square miles and 54 nations?

Hang on a minute. Isn’t it because foreign correspondents are expensive and the media is running out of money? Whose fault is it that we don’t read serious coverage of Africa but prefer to consume news about sport? And how did we become such superficial and unsympathetic human beings in the first place?

You Decide

  1. Should we feel guilty if we are having fun while others in the world are suffering?
  2. Is this disaster worse than the mosque killings in New Zealand?


  1. Draw a map of Africa outlining the whole continent and filling in just three countries: Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
  2. Using the last link in Become An Expert, write a 300-word article discussing whether climate change is partly to blame.

Some People Say...

“We fear Africa because, when we leave it alone, it works.”

Patrick Marnham

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Remarkably little, apart from the facts mentioned in the story above. We can say for sure that there is a massive catastrophe going on and that it is likely there will be well over 1,000 deaths. But there are very few reporters on the ground, and aid agencies can’t get to many of the affected areas.
What do we not know?
We have very little idea how many people may have died already. There is only a vague idea of how many people lived in the worst-hit areas. By now it is likely that starvation and disease are taking their toll. There are next to no communications. Rarely in modern times has so little been known about the real details of such a huge emergency.

Word Watch

The CIA factbook says “Mozambique is a poor, sparsely populated country with high fertility and mortality rates and a rapidly growing youthful population — 45% of the population is younger than 15. Mozambique’s high poverty rate is sustained by natural disasters, disease, high population growth, low agricultural productivity and the unequal distribution of wealth.”
Cyclone Idai
Like storms in Britain, cyclones are named because it is easier and less confusing to say “Cyclone Idai” than remember the storm’s number or its longitude and latitude. It’s also easier when you have more than one storm to track.
Southern hemisphere
The half of Earth that is south of the equator.
Hierarchy of death
A hierarchy is a system in which things are ranked according to status — most important at the top, least at the bottom.


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