Wednesday 23 October 2019

Desperate hunt for signs of life in wake of devastating cyclone

Rescue mission: Survivors of Cyclone Idai arrive by boat at an evacuation centre in Beira
Rescue mission: Survivors of Cyclone Idai arrive by boat at an evacuation centre in Beira

Cara Anna

A second week has begun of efforts to find and help tens of thousands of people after Cyclone Idai devastated large parts of southern Africa.

Members of the Indian and South African military are joining aid groups in flying over stretches of central Mozambique to look for signs of life and people in need.

No one can say with any certainty just how many people are missing. As of yesterday, more than 732 people were confirmed dead in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. That number is certain to rise as flood water recedes.

The shattered Mozambican city of Beira and other communities are now home to crowded displacement camps, both organised and informal.

With communications badly affected by the cyclone and some families separated in the chaos, a programme aimed at reunification has begun.

"Every day we discover the destruction left by Cyclone Idai is worse than we imagined," said Hicham Mandoudi of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"We are deeply concerned about remote communities cut off by flooding and landslides and yet to receive any humanitarian assistance.

"More rain is expected to come, which will compound the suffering of people who have already lost everything."

The torrentially heavy rain that was been forecast will pour into the low-lying Beira area and fill nearby dams, threatening to burst local rivers once again.

Mozambique's government has formally requested assistance from the international community, the UN humanitarian office said, opening the door to further aid efforts.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week appealed for more support for victims of Cyclone Idai, saying the UN and its humanitarian partners are scaling up the response - but insisting a "far greater international support is needed."

The UN chief said: "With crops destroyed in the bread- basket of Mozambique, more people are at risk of food insecurity in all three countries."

Beira, the city at the centre of aid efforts for Mozambique, can still only be reached by land or sea. Local fishermen have joined the rescue efforts, ferrying stranded people about 50 or so at a time to the city's beach or port.

Prices of food are doubling and even tripling. People wait in line outside stores, let in one by one in an effort to prevent looting.

Left with nothing, many survivors were fretting for their future, while others mourned losses.

"All our food got wet, we didn't know where to go with the children. We don't have anything," said Mimi Manuel, a 26-year-old mother of four who lost her home and was sitting on the floor of a makeshift shelter in a primary school in Beira.

Throughout the region, emergency air efforts focus on spotting stranded people and communities in the hope of dropping aid or plucking those in dire need to safety.

There are signs of life in the inundated landscape, even smoke from cooking fires.

As water recedes, however, aid workers expect the death toll to rise as bodies are found.

With water and sanitation systems largely destroyed, water-borne diseases are also a growing concern.

In Ireland, Bishop of Cloyne William Crean called for support for Trocaire's Lenten campaign in order to bring relief to people affected by the cyclone. The bishop, the current chairman of Trocaire, the overseas development agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, said: "The scenes of devastation in southern Africa following Cyclone Idai are heart-breaking. Our hearts go out to the millions who have lost loved ones, homes or livelihoods as a result of this terrible disaster.

"Trocaire is responding to this crisis in all three countries. As well as providing immediate humanitarian relief, Trocaire will work with communities over the months and years ahead as they rebuild their lives. The immediate needs are huge, but the long-term implications are very worrying. Crops have been destroyed, which will lead to serious food shortages.

"As chair of Trocaire, I urge people to support Trocaire's Lenten appeal. Donations to Trocaire during Lent will go towards providing short-term relief and long-term security to people affected by Cyclone Idai, as well as millions more facing similar crises around the world."

Sunday Independent

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