Beira (Mozambique) – The Red Cross warned Monday that survivors of a powerful cyclone that pummelled southern Africa face “a ticking bomb” of disease even as aid workers reached those affected by the storm.
Cyclone Idai smashed into Mozambique’s coast, unleashing hurricane-force wind and rain that flooded swathes of the poor country before battering eastern Zimbabwe — killing 706 people across the two nations.
The head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Elhadj As Sy said “we are sitting on a ticking bomb” as he called for renewed efforts to address the worsening health situation.
As logistical conditions improved and roads to affected communities have been reconnected, the full scale of the humanitarian crisis has been revealed for the first time since the storm struck on March 15.
More than two million people have been affected in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi where the storm started as a tropical depression causing flooding which killed 60 and displaced nearly a million people. Hundreds are still missing in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
“The conditions for rescue are improving. Yesterday a road reopened which was really important to allow officials to work and rescue,” Mozambique’s Land Minister Celso Correa told reporters.
– ‘Children looking for their parents’ –
“We’ve got 30 missions flying today and some going by road so we can really deliver volume,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Sebastian Rhodes Stampa.
“We are packing food and shelter now — they will go out tomorrow both north and south”.
Stampa stressed that efforts to rebuild infrastructure damaged in the cyclone were temporary and not lasting repairs.
“They are repairing for now,” to allow aid through, he said.
Buzi, one of the worst hit towns located 30 kilometres (19 miles) southwest of Beira, became reachable by road on Monday — for the first time since the storm hit.
“It will now be much faster to deliver aid,” Stampa added.
In Buzi, survivor Joao Zacaria said that “one man who had 40 cows lost them all. Forty, can you imagine!”
Sy, who had just returned from the region, warned of a “high risk of water-borne diseases” like cholera and typhus — as well as malaria, which is endemic in the region.
A procession of mourners carried the coffin containing the body of Tomas Joaquim Chimukme, who was killed by the cyclone, through saturated marshland outside of Beira on Monday.
Many of those attending wore open sandals in the water which was ankle-high.
The United Nations has warned that stagnant water in many areas, decomposing bodies and the lack of sanitation in overcrowded shelters in Mozambique could create breeding grounds for such diseases.
The government has already identified some suspected but unconfirmed cases of cholera, Sy said.
“That is the reason why I am raising the alarm. Many of these water-borne diseases are a great risk, but they are preventable,” he added.
“The worst thing is the children crying and looking for their parents… It is heartbreaking,” he said, adding that it remained unclear how many children may have been orphaned.
Medical services in the affected region were stretched even before the cyclone hit and according to aid group MSF, Beira hospital’s operating theatre sustained serious damage. As many as 17 health centres have lost their roofs, it added in a statement.
The South African military have deployed several aircraft to the affected area and an EU-funded World Food Programme chopper is supporting rescue and recovery efforts.