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Mercy missions flood cyclone-hit areas with relief

Posted 2 August 2019 · Add Comment

More than 1,000 people were killed and property destroyed as two cyclones tore through southern and eastern Africa in March and April. Humphrey Nkonde reports.

The terrifying Cyclone Idai made its landfall on March 14/15 near Beira and left about 1,000 people dead and close to two million in need of life-saving support in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Later, Cyclone Kenneth struck on April 21 and affected Mozambique, Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, Mayotte, Malawi and Tanzania, leaving at least 50 people dead.
Cyclone Idai created massive floods and severely damaged about 90% of the infrastructure in the Mozambique port of Beira.
Winds reached speeds of nearly 200kmh as the cyclone tore through the region, destroying buildings and equipment valued at more than $1 billion.
Operations at Beira International Airport had to be temporarily halted after the storm damaged the control tower and runways.
Thousands of people were trapped by floods, with many seeking refuge on higher ground surrounded by water, or in trees, on rooftops, in schools and other public buildings.
The storm destroyed bridges and roads, meaning that air transport was urgently needed to rescue people and deliver relief supplies.
Mercy Air, a non-profit Christian humanitarian aviation organisation, headquartered in White River, South Africa, was the first to respond after the cyclone struck.
The organisation’s fleet comprises two AS350 B2 helicopters, a Quest Kodiak 100 and a Cessna 310. Since 2000, it has been involved in monitoring floods in southern Africa.
One of its helicopters was involved in rescuing people from the floods, distributing food and materials that were used to set up the first camp, and conducting initial aerial surveys.
Mercy Air, which has been providing aviation services to humanitarian and mission organisations since 1991, is focused on educational, medical and evangelical outreach programmes to remote areas of southern Africa. It has also offered relief services in previous storms to hit Mozambique over the past two decades.
That background knowledge made it easier for the organisation to respond quickly to the emergency.
“Ours was the first helicopter on the scene in Beira to rescue people, deliver food and materials that were used to set up the first camp, and complete survey flights,” said Mercy Air authorities.
Although the humanitarian aviation organisation was on the ground early, its officials did not anticipate that the 2019 storm would be more intense than previously experienced.
“Specifically, big floods occurred in 2000, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013 and now in 2019,” said Mercy Air’s chief executive officer, Allan Luus. “We are on standby every year during the flooding season. Because Mercy Air is independent, we can react immediately.
“This year we were in Mozambique the day before the cyclone hit Beira. We knew to be prepared by simply monitoring the aviation meteorological services for Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Swaziland.”
Airbus, the manufacturer of the AS350 B2 helicopter, said the make was suitable for rescue operations. Linden Birns, the public and media relations representative for Airbus in sub-Saharan Africa, explained: “The AS350 B2 helicopter has a wide and flat cabin floor that can be quickly and easily reconfigured for a variety of missions, including rescue, firefighting and law enforcement.”
Birns said Airbus employed more than 100 people at its large maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in Midrand, South Africa, and satellite facilities in Nairobi and Cape Town, where the AS350 B2 can be serviced.
Civil aviation efforts following Idai were later beefed up by military operations of the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, the UK’s Royal Air Force, US Command in Africa and others.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) came in to rescue people who were trapped by the floods.
SANDF told journalists that it rescued 417 victims of Cyclone Idai and also delivered medicine and 62 tonnes of relief food to Mozambique and Malawi.
South African military officers distributed supplies to Malawi through Chileka International Airport in Blantyre.
The US Command in Africa was also involved in air delivery of supplies and transporting by air of personnel, who loaded goods on planes following the cyclone’s devastation.
It also opened up airfields, on top of advising the Mozambican Government on how relief operations could be enhanced logistically.
The UK’s Royal Air Force delivered 20 tonnes of life-saving supplies, including water filters, solar lanterns, blankets and shelters kits. The Department for International Development made available donations from the UK.
Meanwhile, Airbus tested the A330neo aircraft by delivering water, sanitation and hygiene equipment, as well as materials that were used to make temporary shelters for survivors of the cyclone. The 26 tonnes of supplies were provided by Airbus Foundation through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The test aircraft left Geneva in Switzerland on the evening of March 25 and landed at Mozambique’s Maputo International Airport the following morning.
“We are saddened by the devastation and losses caused by Cyclone Idai and stand with the people of Mozambique during these incredibly difficult times,” said Guillaume Faury, president of Airbus’ commercial aircraft.
Faury, who is also a member of the Airbus Foundation’s board of directors, said that providing humanitarian support by delivering critical assistance was the core of the foundation’s mission.
Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) was another humanitarian aviation organisation that offered relief services after cyclones Idai and Kenneth struck.
Since 2000, MAF, operating as Ambassador Aviation, has maintained a base at Nampula in Mozambique, from where it mainly offers medical evacuation services.
Its fleet in Nampula comprises a Cessna Grand Caravan and Cessna 206.
Brad Hoaglun, MAF’s director of corporate communication, said his organisation
delivered 16.1 metric tonnes of food, shelter and medicine to victims of Cyclone Idai.
“MAF used the Cessna Grand Caravan to conduct assessment surveys that were shared with Mozambique’s Disaster Management Agency to determine the storm’s impact and areas with greatest need of relief food,” Hoaglun added.
He explained that the Cessna Grand Caravan was suitable for such operations.
“It is a robust aircraft that performs well in disaster response situations. It is able to land on rugged grass or dirty airstrips while carrying up to 11 passengers or a significant amount of cargo.”
MAF was formed in 1945 by World War II pilots, who had a vision of using aviation to spread the gospel.
With a fleet of 131 aircraft and headquartered in Nampa, Idaho in the US, it has grown into a global organisation serving 37 countries in Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Indonesia and Latin America.
It responded to Cyclone Kenneth, whose highest winds reached a maximum speed of 215kmh,
By delivering 12,916kg of cargo comprising water, food, sanitation and hygiene materials, as well as medicine, to Ibo and Matemo islands in Mozambique.
Cyclone Kenneth destroyed communication infrastructure on Ibo Island, resulting in MAF setting up a very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite communication system for relief workers and others.
The two cyclones brought out lessons regarding response to natural disasters by non-profit humanitarian aviation organisations, the United Nations (UN) agencies, and the military.
The disaster showed that, while there was a massive response by the UN agencies and the military, the quickest reaction – particularly for Cyclone Idai – came from Mercy Air.
As climate-related disasters intensify in Africa, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and similar organisations can work with small humanitarian organisations to offer first-line responses to disasters.
Countries in the SADC region have government-controlled, private and non-profit humanitarian aviation organisations that provide aero medical and pest control services. Those organisations can extend their mandates to natural, human-made and climate-related disasters. They can work together with meteorological service providers to offer quick responses to natural disasters in a coordinated manner.

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