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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Cyclone Idai: southern Africa’s most destructive flooding in 20 years

Countries including the UAE, UK and EU will provide aid to help victims of the disaster

Cyclone Idai has left a trail of devastation and death across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and the UN has called it one of the worst weather-related disasters to strike the southern hemisphere.

More than 1,000 people are feared to have died in Mozambique, while more than 200 are missing in neighbouring Zimbabwe, after the storm left a 30-mile stretch of land underwater.

More than 350 people have been confirmed dead, but these numbers are expected to rise significantly. Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said late on Tuesday that more than 200 people had been confirmed dead in his country and at least 400,000 people were left homeless. In Zimbabwe, the official death toll stands at 98.

An estimated 1.7 million people were in the path of the cyclone in Mozambique, UN World Food Programme spokesman Herve Verhoosel told journalists in Geneva, in addition to the 920,000 people affected in Malawi and “thousands more” impacted in Zimbabwe.

Three days of national mourning were declared in Mozambique.

The storms took many local residents by surprise. “There was a house there, it was buried and the owners may have been buried with it. They are missing,” Zacharia Chinyai of the Zimbabwean border town of Chimanimani, who lost 12 relatives in the disaster, told the Associated Press.

“We heard news on the radio” about the flooding in neighbouring Mozambique, he said. “But we never thought we could also be victims. No one told us it was going to be this devastating.”

Chipo Dhliwayo, 30, told AP that she lost her daughters, Anita, 4, and Amanda, 8.

“I wasn’t able to save anything except this baby,” she said of her lone surviving child, a six-month-old son, who suffered an eye injury and scars to his face.

The family was sleeping when their house collapsed, she said.

“Trees, rocks and mud were raining on us. I grabbed my son, my husband took Anita and we ran to a hut, but that also collapsed. Anita died there,” she said.

Amanda was trapped in the rubble of their house and her body was not found until the next day.

“I knew she was already dead. I cried the whole night,” Ms Dhliwayo said. “I lost so much that I wish I had just died.”

Call for aid

This is not the first time Mozambique has been hit by cyclones and floods. One of the country’s most devastating floods in recent memory occurred in February and March 2000, when approximately 1,400km of arable land was affected, 20,000 herds of cattle were lost and about 700 people were killed. Many fear that the consequences of Cyclone Idai could be worse.

Although the aid efforts began last week, emergency units are struggling to reach parts of the three countries after some roads, bridges and communications networks were washed away or destroyed.

The UAE said it would send Dh18.3 million in emergency aid to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Britain and the European Union have also said they would provide aid to help victims of the disaster, with the former pledging up to £7.9m and the former $3.9m.

WFP has co-ordinated airlifts of high-energy biscuits, water and blankets to people crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land outside the port city of Beira, where 90 per cent of buildings are damaged, including the agency’s warehouse and port unloading machinery. The city has a population of approximately 500,000 people, many of which are now homeless, but also serves as a gateway to landlocked areas of southern Africa.

Local media reported that there were food and fuel shortages in central Mozambique because Beira was cut off by road.

“We are talking about a massive disaster right now where hundreds of thousands, in the millions of people, are potentially affected,” said Jens Laerke from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “We need all the logistical support that we can possibly get.”

What’s next?

Aid organisations and authorities are rushing humanitarian aid to Beira and other areas by air and sea, while rescue efforts push on. The torrential rains are expected to continue in central Mozambique until Thursday.

Mozambique’s Pungue and Buzi rivers overflowed, creating “inland oceans extending for miles and miles in all directions”, said Mr Verhoosel.

As the water begins to clear throughout the region, the extent of the devastation will become clearer. What is certain is that thousands of families will be seeking refuge after their homes were washed away by the floods.

The EU's global observation programme, mapping the crisis, said 394 square kilometres of Mozambique had been flooded.

More deaths could occur if people are swept away by the rising waters or are not reached in time with critical water, food and other aid.

Updated: March 20, 2019 12:52 PM

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