Our Ops Producer, Josh, has been out with the teams in Mozambique, capturing the work they’re doing, for the past 11 days. He’s been based predominantly in South Buzi and now Matarara. He sent us through his initial impressions after seven days on the the ground. He will be out there for another 2 weeks.
As I sit in a queue of traffic, in Beira, waiting to enter the upcoming damaged section of road, writing this on my phone, I realise I’ve now been in Mozambique for a week.
Maputo, where I first flew in, seems a world away from the disaster zone – because it is. Mozambique, like all of Africa, is vast. It was a two hour flight from Maputo, where we’d enjoyed the luxury of a donated tiled floor to sleep on and (semi) working shower, to Beira, the coastal city at the start of Cyclone Idai’s path of destruction. It was in Beira that Team Rubicon UK’s life-saving work would truly begin.
The sense of urgency as we landed in Beira was palpable. Helicopters buzzed overhead carrying underslung loads, cargo equipment dragged material to and from an eclectic assortment of military and civilian aircraft. The human presence, clad in all the rainbow colours of the world’s top aid agencies, snaked across the tarmac. People busily directing and lifting and moving and loading and marshalling and driving. They continued on unabashed by, or perhaps unaware of, the presence of yet more arrivals.
A very short stop to grab our kit bags and we were through into a frenetic arrivals corridor. Within 30 seconds, I had brushed past representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Samaritans Purse, various branches of the UN, the International Organisation of Migration, Map Action and several of the regions militaries, not to mention the ever present US Air Force.
We were in the epicentre of aid distribution and the single-minded determination of those around us was clear. Those affected by Cyclone Idai were in desperate need of water, food and shelter. Our Strike Teams were raring to go.
Our Team Rubicon UK uniform got us nods and glances of recognition as well as instant entry to the Emergency Operations Centre – testament to the outstanding work of our advance team who been leading the Water Sanitation and Health Cluster (WASH) under the UN’s cluster system.
We already had one of our teams out on the ground, the other was here with me, preparing their kit for three weeks out in the heart of the disaster zone where they would be directing aid distribution. Whilst much of the news back home had focussed on Beira as an area in dire need of help, hearing the assessments coming in from the inland areas around Buzi made the extent of the damage clear and drove home the sheer devastation suffered by so many hundreds of thousands of people.
Our specialised team is highly trained for this but it was certainly not going to be easy. They were each carrying upwards of 20kg, moving on foot across this vast, destroyed landscape, crossing rivers and being dropped into remote locations by helicopter.
Their task was to conduct needs assessments of stricken villages, set up Forward Operating Bases to forward load aid, identify landing and drop zones and calling in aid to be delivered from the world’s top NGOs. Team Rubicon UK is at the absolute tip of the spear in the Mozambique disaster response. They are truly going where others are not to bring aid to those most in need.
The Deputy Head of Humanitarian Response for the UN, Sebastian Rhodes,said himself at yesterday’s inter-agency meeting at the Emergency Operations Centre:
“Team Rubicon UK have the lead on the ground with the authority to make demands and call in aid as required. They are vital to the success of the current response”
And so now, as our column of traffic gets its turn to move up this damaged, and now one lane, section of the N6 highway, I find myself apprehensive. Not for any personal reason, like the conditions I might face or emotional challenges of seeing people in such need, though those feeling are there too. Instead I’m apprehensive about doing my part for this small team packing its almost comically outsized punch. I worry about capturing their efforts, living up to their standards and adequately telling the true story of the awesome impact they are having here. Standing on the shoulders of giants is easy. Standing alongside them is not.