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Zimbabweans Still Recovering a Year After Cyclone Idai

FILE: The United Nations says many people in Cyclone Idai affected areas in Zimbabwe such as Chimanimani district are still homeless, food insecure and failing to access basic health care, June 9, 2019. (C. Mavhunga for VOA)

A year after eastern Zimbabwe was hit by Cyclone Idai, one of the worst tropical storms on record for Africa, some survivors are still recovering.

The cyclone that hit in March 2019 left nearly 700 people dead or missing, and destroyed or damaged almost 50,000 homes, according to officials.

Sitting next to his fowl run with fewer than five chickens — his only sign of wealth — 33-year-old Muchaneta Maputire is one of the thousands who survived but had to move into a temporary shelter because his house was ruined.

One year later, Maputire is still waiting to get into permanent housing.

He currently lives in a tent with his wife and 7-month-old son. When it is raining, he said, they are tormented with fear that their shelter will be destroyed, just like during Cyclone Idai.

The International Organization for Migration says 24,000 families affected by the storm in Zimbabwe are still in need of permanent shelter.

July Moyo, Zimbabwe's minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, says President Emmerson Mnangagwa is aware of the housing problem, but the government's top priority is repairing roads and bridges that were damaged by the storm.

"We are now building back better. In one case, we were assisted by the South African defense forces," Moyo said. "There ... is a lot of work to be done, but the ministry is now leading the reconstruction and building back better than what was there."

The United Nations Office for Project Services is managing the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project with $100 million in grants from the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

Djibrilla Mazin, the head of UNOPS in Zimbabwe, says U.N. agencies are helping affected communities recover through food handouts, livestock, and crop assistance.

"So things are happening in terms of immediate recovery plans. And the longer and medium-term recovery are also taking place," Mazin said. "We have two roads in Chimanimani and in Chipinge that are labor based. So, it's also engaging the local population in those works ... . What we are looking at is building better, so that takes a little time because the intention is not just repairing what it is there, but reconstructing something that will last."

That is also what Maputire and thousands of others whose homes were destroyed by Cyclone Idai are hoping for — permanent homes that can withstand the storms to come.