The United Nations in New York will on Monday launch a $282-million appeal for Mozambique in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai with similar appeals for Zimbabwe and Malawi to follow in the coming days.

The funding is only for the next three months with a big focus on hygiene, sanitation, health and education for children.

The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund had just returned from a visit to Mozambique where she reiterated their position that in places like Beira and the Buzi District of Mozambique, they are in a race against time.

As the death toll now reaches beyond 750 across the worst affected countries, the immediate concern is preventing an outbreak of disease.

And with thousands either huddled in camps or schools, humanitarian workers are bracing for the spread of diseases like cholera or malaria.

Executive Director of UNICEF Henrietta Fore says, “Buzi town is right across the mouth of the river from Beira and Buzi town is now underwater, they say it’s now under 8 metres of water, but you cannot see a person, you cannot see a building, you can only hope that people could swim or walk out but they were coming because there’s no food. It’s just an inland sea as far as you can see and they are coming to Beira and Beira has been separated, it’s been an island. The airport is now working, communications are back up. As of this weekend there is running water which will be extremely important but we are very worried about disease.”

Fore says there are long-term recovery and development requirements for one of the poorest regions of the world, with a need for the agrarian economies of the region to diversify faster in order to offset the extreme weather that will continue to be a common feature – with at least half a million hectares of agricultural land damaged in Mozambique alone.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock says, “Malawi is very reliant on substance farmers planting maize. Maize requires 90 days of reasonably regular rain and the number of years in which that is happening seems to be falling. So the obvious takeaway is how is Malawi going to diversify its economy to be a bit less reliant on rain-fed agriculture – there’s a lot of irrigation potential in Malawi but also to maybe diversity planting choices.”

The scale of devastation is extraordinary, with entire communities, villages, and cities having to be rebuilt once this phase of the humanitarian response is complete.

Fore acknowledged the dire situation.

“Tens of people came then, hundreds and now thousands that are crowded into these schools. They’re lined up for clean water, they need sanitation facilities, they are sleeping there. They left with whatever was on their backs so people have donated some quilts for warmth, we’re doing nutrition, we’ve set up temporary medical areas, some doctors were lecturing in town and they are now helping out at these quickly set up medical centres. We have quite a few orphans, we have called out to their families. When they don’t respond for two or three days we have to fear the worst, so it is a very difficult situation for them.”

According to reports, over 100 000 people are living in shelters across Mozambique with almost 60 000 homes destroyed; many in and around the port city of Beira.

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