Deadly cyclone raises fears of humanitarian crisis in southern Africa

Published 22.03.2019 00:00
Updated 22.03.2019 00:15

A week after Cyclone Idai hit coastal Mozambique and swept across the country to Zimbabwe, the death, damage and flooding continues in southern Africa, making it one of the most destructive natural disasters in the region's recent history.

The confirmed death toll is still rising and hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk, officials said. The death toll in Mozambique has risen to 217 and around 15,000 people, many of them very ill, are still in need of rescue. The Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said that rescue workers continue to find bodies and the toll could rise sharply. In neighboring Zimbabwe, the death toll jumped to 139. In Malawi, 56 people have been confirmed dead so far.

Cyclone Idai lashed Beira with winds of up to 170 km per hour a week ago, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk. The three countries are some of the poorest in the region and depend heavily on foreign aid. The U.N. World Food Program (WFP), which is coordinating food drops across the region where 200,000 people in Zimbabwe will need urgent food aid for three months. The organization stepped up airdrops of high-energy biscuits to isolated pockets of people stranded by the floodwaters and delivered food parcels to displaced families sheltering in schools and other public buildings in the town of Dondo, 45 km northeast of Beira.

A key priority now is pushing into remaining areas affected by the flooding that have not yet been explored in search of people needing rescue, said Connor Hartnady, leader of a South African rescue task force. Helicopters ferried people, many plucked from roofs and tree-tops where they had fled to evade the turbid waters and reddish-brown mud, to the port city of Beira, the headquarters of the huge rescue operation. With flood waters starting to recede, the priority now is to deliver food and other supplies to people rather than take people out of the affected areas, although that is also still happening, Environment Minister Correia said. Some 3,000 people have been rescued so far in Mozambique, which declared a state of emergency on Monday.

"We've thousands of people... on roofs and trees waiting for rescue," Caroline Haga, spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said. "We are running out of time. People have been waiting for rescue for more than three days now," she told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in the storm-ravaged coastal city of Beira.

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