Residents brave the floods in Mazive, southern Mozambique, on April 28, 2019, days after Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in the region.

After Record-Breaking Storms, Mozambique Faces a Humanitarian Crisis

Residents brave the floods in Mazive, southern Mozambique, on April 28, 2019, days after Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in the region. Visual: Emidio Josine/AFP/Getty Images

Six weeks after Cyclone Idai devastated several countries in southeast Africa, including Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, a second storm dealt another blow to the region, further stretching limited relief funding and resources.

Cyclone Kenneth slammed into Mozambique’s northern coast on April 25 with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane), making it the strongest storm in recorded history to hit the country. Mozambique’s National Institute of Disaster Management reported Monday that 38 people have been killed and 35,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed. With the storm hitting at the start of the region’s harvest season, floodwaters have also inundated more than 77,000 acres of crops.

As in the aftermath of Idai — which killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 3 million — road destruction, flooding, and the risk of landslides are preventing emergency responders from reaching remote villages, according to the United Nations (U.N.) The storm has also resulted in new cases of cholera, a diarrheal illness caused by bacteria and spread through contaminated food and water, adding to the more than 1,000 previously reported after Idai.

Following the earlier storm, UNICEF and the World Health Organization launched a massive immunization effort, shipping more than 900,000 doses of vaccine to Mozambique. A similar such effort may now be needed. “Cyclone Kenneth may require a major new humanitarian operation at the same time that the ongoing Cyclone Idai response targeting 3 million people in three countries remains critically underfunded,” said Mark Lowcock, the U.N.’s humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, in a statement on April 26.

On Monday, Lowcock released $13 million from the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund to help those affected by Kenneth. But the cost of rebuilding the country’s damaged infrastructure is expected to far exceed the relief funds raised so far. Earlier this month, Mozambique took out a $118.2 million loan from the International Monetary Fund to help finance the reconstruction efforts after Idai.

Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, called the loan announcement “a shocking indictment of the international community.” Other advocates have cited the situation as part of a growing trend of global climate injustice, wherein poorer countries disproportionately bear the burden of climate change effects caused by the practices of richer nations.

Experts predict that high-intensity storm seasons will become more common as the climate warms. Abubakr Salih Babiker, a meteorologist at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, based in Nairobi, told Bloomberg that rising sea surface temperatures — a key ingredient for cyclones — may be causing the recent spate of storms in east Africa.

“There’s a pattern here,” said Babiker, “What used to be rare is not rare anymore.”

Also in the news:

• A 160,000-year-old jawbone discovered in a Tibetan cave belongs to an ancient, Neanderthal-like human called a Denisovan, according to a paper published Wednesday in Nature. Researchers have long theorized that Denisovans lived across much of Asia, but until now the only known remains came from Denisova Cave in Siberia. The jawbone, which was found in 1980 by a Tibetan monk who entered the cave to pray, proves not only that Denisovans inhabited areas south of Siberia, but also that they were able to adapt to the harsh, high-altitude conditions of the Tibetan plateau. A 2014 study showed that present-day Tibetans acquired some of their genetic makeup from Denisovan ancestors, including a special adaptation that helps them survive in low oxygen environments without making extra hemoglobin. While scientists were unable to extract any DNA from the jawbone (they identified it as Denisovan by analyzing proteins found on the teeth), the find is a step toward understanding more about our Denisovan ancestors, said Emilia Huerta-Sanchez, a population geneticist at Brown University who was not involved in the study. “Denisovans are such a mysterious group that anything we learn is exciting,” said Huerta-Sanchez. (The New York Times)

• A study published this week in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports a troubling correlation between pre-teen and teenage suicide, and the release of “13 Reasons Why,” a Netflix show in which a teenaged main character dies by suicide. The study found a 28.9 percent increase in suicide among Americans aged 10 to 17 the month following the series’ debut in March 2017, primarily among males. Over the remainder of 2017, there were 195 more youth suicides than expected based on historical trends. “While compelling, this research had several limitations,” the National Institute of Mental Health, who funded the study, said in a press release. Because of the study’s “quasi-experimental design” the researchers could not make a causal link and could not “rule out the possibility that unmeasured events or factors influenced suicide rates during this period,” said the release. Since the show’s debut, Netflix has received criticism from suicide prevention specialists and mental health organizations, including the National Association of School Psychologists, which issued a statement discouraging “vulnerable youth” from watching. A Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to NPR it is currently examining the research. (NPR)

• Cannabis research received a $9 million boost this week, thanks to a private gift to be shared between Harvard and MIT. Charles R. “Bob” Broderick, an investor in the industry and an alumnus of both universities, provided the donation with the goal of increasing the understanding of marijuana’s effects on the brain. While Broderick could stand to gain from the findings, researchers have said he will have no input on their work. At the federal level, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use,” though it’s now legal in 10 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, with an additional 23 states allowing it for medical purposes. Some of the research conducted at MIT will focus on the drug’s effects in people with schizophrenia, while some of the work at Harvard will seek to understand the effects of individual compounds in the plant. “We’re very excited about this,” said Bruce Bean, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard who will be working on the project. “I think it’s going to stimulate some interesting research.” (The Boston Globe)

• The number of measles cases reported in the U.S. continued to climb this week. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 704 cases in 22 states, the largest single-year number since 1994. During a press telebriefing, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said the disease was imported by unvaccinated travelers returning to the U.S. from foreign countries, and spread quickly in under-vaccinated communities. Messonnier said targeted misinformation campaigns contributed to the lack of vaccination in some of the affected communities. In light of the outbreaks, BuzzFeed News this week asked all of the 2020 presidential hopefuls their stances on vaccines. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, drew criticism for an initial statement given by a campaign spokesperson in support of religious exemptions for vaccination. A Buttigieg spokesperson later sent a “clarifying statement” to BuzzFeed News, saying the mayor believes “only medical exemptions should be allowed.” (Multiple sources)

• The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported this week that an agency investigation revealed an Oregon company faked thousands of tests on aluminum parts, a pattern of fraud that led to two failed satellite launch missions and cost U.S. taxpayers some $700 million. The company, Sapa Profiles Inc. (now renamed Hydro Extrusion Portland Inc.), admitted to the fraud and agreed to pay NASA $46 million and accept a permanent ban on federal contracts. The agency said the bad parts, used in the Taurus XL rocket, were responsible for two launch failures and the resulting loss of satellites planned to study Earth climate. The company said it had overhauled its quality control system. But Jim Norman, NASA’s head of launch services, said that many years of good science were lost to the fraud. (Bloomberg)

• And finally: For the first time ever, a donated kidney has been delivered by drone. Though the drone traveled less than three miles during the flight, Dr. Joseph Scalea, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who led the experiment, is optimistic about longer trips in the future. The team partnered with a group of engineers and aviation researchers, who flew the drone more than 700 hours on 44 test flights before using it to carry an organ to be transplanted. Scalea was inspired to test delivery drones after several frustrating experiences in which his patients had to wait several hours to receive their new organs. After they are extracted from the donor’s body, there’s a short 12- to 36-hour time window for many organs after which they are no longer useful for transplantation. It once took a kidney for one of Scalea’s patients 29 hours to travel to Maryland from Alabama (for comparison, the trip takes around 13 hours by car). The drone-delivered kidney went to Trina Glispy, a 44-year-old nursing assistant who had been waiting on the transplant list for eight years. (The New York Times)