Aid agencies in race against time after Cyclone Idai

With heavily-populated areas of Mozambique now covered by a massive lake, survivors of Cyclone Idai face disease and hunger. Aid agencies say time is running out for the victims.

The death toll from Cyclone Idai topped 600 people on Friday, with aid agencies warning much more suffering could be on the way in southeast Africa. Over a week after the powerful storm hit Mozambique and neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi, survivors now face threat of disease and lack of medical supplies.

"We are running out of time, it is at a critical point here," the United Nations children's agency (UNICEF) chief Henrietta Fore told AFP news agency. She warned hygiene and safe drinking water are absolute priorities.

"There's stagnant water, it's not draining, decomposing bodies, lack of good hygiene and sanitation," Fore said. "We are worried about cholera, about malaria, because of the stagnant water."

Read more: Cyclone Idai wreaks havoc across southeastern Africa

Cyclone Idai devastates Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Beira bears the brunt

Beira on Mozambique's Indian Ocean coastline was the first city to be hit by Idai. The impact knocked out power, flooded roads and brought down homes. The Red Cross, an international charity, described the destruction in Beira as "massive and horrifying."

Cyclone Idai devastates Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Many homes lost

Zimbabwe's eastern district of Chimanimani was the country's worst-hit. Many residents saw their homes washed away by flash floods. Acting Defense Minister Perrance Shiri said the devastation resembled "the aftermath of a full-scale war." In Mozambique, at least 400,000 people were left homeless.

Cyclone Idai devastates Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Roads and bridges collapse

In both Mozambique (pictured) and Zimbabwe, sinkholes destroyed roads and flash floods washed away bridges. "This is the worst infrastructural damage we have ever had," said Joel Biggie Matiza, Zimbabwe's transport and infrastructural development minister.

Cyclone Idai devastates Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Relief efforts underway

The United Nations and international charity groups delivered aid by helicopter to both countries. Zimbabwe's army also brought aid to those they could reach. But many areas were still inaccessible as a result of persistent bad weather. "This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique's recent history," said Jamie LeSueur from International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Cyclone Idai devastates Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Death toll climbing

Cyclone Idai might be the deadliest storm to have ever hit Mozambique. President Filipe Nyusi said the death toll could rise to at least 1,000. At least 200 people have been confirmed dead and officials said they expect that figure to rise. "With every hour and day that passes, our worst fears become increasingly real," President Emmerson Mnangagwa said.

Cyclone Idai devastates Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Difficulty retrieving bodies

Zimbabwean Local Government Minister July Moyo told reporters at a post-cabinet meeting that the current toll for his country was around 100. "The total number, we were told they could be 100, some are saying there could be 300. But we cannot confirm this situation," he said. "I understand there are bodies which are floating, some have floated all the way to Mozambique," said Moyo.

Cyclone Idai devastates Mozambique and Zimbabwe

More rain expected

Mozambique said it expects more heavy rain in the next few days and had issued flood warnings. Many residents nevertheless returned to their homes. The "biggest threat we have now, even bigger than the cyclone, is floods because it's raining more and more," said Alberto Mondlane, governor of Mozambique's hard-hit Sofala province.

Death toll to increase

According to UNICEF, thousands of people are staying in improvised camps with grossly inadequate living conditions, while hundreds of thousands of children need urgent help.

The death toll will likely increase massively, with thousands believed to have died in Mozambique where flooding has created a 125-kilometer (78-mile) wide lake, devastating an area previously populated by hundreds of thousands of people. The World Food Program (WFP) declared the flood crisis a level three emergency, putting it in the same bracket with Yemen, Syria and South Sudan.

At this stage of the rescue effort, there were almost no survivors being recovered from rooftops and trees, Mozambique's disaster management agency said.

Read more: After Cyclone Idai, 'Beira has found itself in the dark'

UN calls for support

Current relief efforts "are nowhere near the scale and magnitude of the problem," and the situation is likely to worsen, said Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Elhadj As Sy.

"The situation is simply horrendous. There is no other way to describe it," As Sy said after touring camps. "Three thousand people who are living in a school that has 15 classrooms and six, only six, toilets. You can imagine how much we are sitting on a water and sanitation ticking bomb."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the international community to boost its support.

About 1.7 million people have been affected by the storm and hundreds are still missing, according to the UN emergency aid agency OCHA. The Category 4 storm could be one of the biggest cyclone disasters south of the equator, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

aw/dj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Business | 22.03.2019

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