UN warns of dire conditions in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The United Nations says dire conditions in vast areas of southern Africa in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai as heavy rains continue to cause massive destruction in the region.

The World Food Programme has warned that the situation is likely to deteriorate and that people are still in need of rescue from rooftops after the devastating storm swept through Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi affecting millions of people.

The UN agency has appealed for millions of dollars in funding as it aims to reach 600 000 people in the next four weeks.

The Mozambique National Disaster Management Institute says more than 100 000 people are still isolated without assistance in the Chumoio, Dombe and other locations in Manica province.

As UN agencies scale up their response as the breadth of devastation becomes clear. World Food Programme’s  Herve Verhoosel says, “Now that we have a bit more information on the situation, it is clear that the number of 600,000 will definitely go up in the coming days. That has of course (an) implication on cost. If we help 600,000 people for 3 months, that is a cost of $42 million. If we need to help up to 1.7 million people for 3 months that will be a cost of $121.5 million. Obviously, we don’t have that money today.”

Extensive damage has been caused to major roads and bridges which are now impassable, while power networks have been severed and are unlikely to be restored for several weeks.

“For the moment, WFP only has one cargo plane. Very, very quickly you will remember, that was probably the first cargo to land. The food from that cargo is not yet fully distributed. The problem that we have is more the access, we can have the food come in, but then we have a problem of distribution of that food to people because most of the people are basically on rooftops or in a place that we cannot access by road, then the boats and helicopters will be a way to distribute.”

Verhoosel also raised concerns about the distribution network infrastructure required when aid is delivered to the region.

“Let’s not forget that in the port for the moment, you have no infrastructure. That’s the same at the airport. For example, our plane, when our plane arrived, there was nothing to take out of the plane all the food. That has been done manually by people and people need to take box by box out of the plane, so we are not talking about a few hundred kilogrammes, we are talking about a quite a few megatonnes. And that will be the same problem, for the moment at least, in the port when boats will come, that will be a very long process because all the machinery, the infrastructure is not working anymore.”

Relief agencies are on high alert with concerns for the possibility of secondary floods and the spread of communicable diseases. A major humanitarian appeal is also expected in the coming days.

Gemma Connell, who leads operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Southern and East Africa explains some of the heroics performed in rescue operations in the days past.

“I have the most profound respect for the colleagues who have been carrying out those flights at true personal risk to themselves so both the South African Airforce and the Mercy Wings colleagues were flying these flights for search and rescue over very fast-flowing flood waters, dropping down at high risk in challenging helicopter environments to collect people literally from the top of houses and roofs to carry them to safety. It’s absolutely amazing what they managed to do and the lives that they saved in the most incredibly difficult conditions so I have the highest respect – they’re basically heroes these colleagues who have been doing this these last days and they truly saved lives.”

The death toll in Mozambique is officially at 242, in Zimbabwe 139 and in Malawi at 56. Those numbers are expected to rise with hundreds still missing in both Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Zimbabwe declares two days of mourning

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared two days of mourning starting on Saturday following deaths caused by Cyclone Idai.

His government has allocated 50 million US Dollars to help areas affected. Harare has made an appeal for more assistance from international community.