Cyclone Idai’s death toll rises to 746, hundreds of thousands displaced in south-east Africa

A cholera treatment centre set up in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique. The government said for the first time that there had been confirmed cholera cases on March 27, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRA, MOZAMBIQUE (REUTERS, AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food, water and shelter after Cyclone Idai battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in south-east Africa.

As of Saturday (March 30), at least 746 people had been reported killed by the storm, the flooding it caused and heavy rains before it hit.

The number of confirmed cases of cholera in the Mozambican port city of Beira jumped from five to 138 on Friday (March 29), as government and aid agencies battled to contain the spread of disease among the tens of thousands of victims of the storm.

Cyclone Idai smashed into Beira on March 14. Many badly affected areas in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still inaccessible by road, complicating relief efforts and exacerbating the threat of infection.

Although there have been no confirmed cholera deaths in medical centres in Mozambique yet, at least two people died outside hospitals with symptoms including dehydration and diarrhoea, the country's environment minister Celso Correia said.

A Reuters reporter saw the body of a dead child being brought out of an emergency clinic in Beira on Wednesday. The child had suffered acute diarrhoea, which can be a symptom of cholera.

"We expected this, we were prepared for this, we've doctors in place," Correia told reporters.

The government said for the first time that there had been confirmed cholera cases on Wednesday.

Mozambique's National Disaster Management Institute said the local death toll from the tropical storm had increased to 493 people, from 468 previously.

That takes the total death toll across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to 738 people, with many more still missing.

"Stranded communities are relying on heavily polluted water.

This, combined with widespread flooding and poor sanitation, creates fertile grounds for disease outbreaks, including cholera," the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

The World Health Organisation's Tarik Jasarevic said 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine were expected to arrive on Monday.

The US Defence Department said on Friday it had authorised an additional US$8.5 million in humanitarian assistance for Mozambique, bringing the total to US$15 million. About 50 US military personnel have been sent to Mozambique to assist with logistics, including transporting food and medical supplies.

Cholera is endemic to Mozambique, which has had regular outbreaks over the past five years. About 2,000 people were infected in the last outbreak, which ended in February 2018, according to the WHO.

But the scale of the damage to Beira's water and sanitation infrastructure, coupled with its dense population, have raised fears that another epidemic would be difficult to put down.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation on Friday launched an appeal for US$19 million in short-term aid for farmers, fishers and other food producers in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The groups "are under severe threat," an FAO statement said. As flood waters recede, "keeping animals alive, rehabilitating damaged land and rebooting food production will be critical," it added, given that 80 per cent of the population in Mozambique depends on agriculture.

The cyclone devastated the provinces of Manica and Sofala, which normally account for one-quarter of the nation's cereal production. The FAO estimates that US$19 million would provide three months' support for local populations.

Before Cyclone Idai hit, 1.8 million people already lacked access to secure food supplies, the statement said.

"We will procure and distribute seeds as a matter of urgency so that farmers can plant for the secondary agricultural season, which is starting now, in April," it quoted local representative Olman Serrano as saying.

Fishers and ports also need aid, in particular Beira, the country's main fishing port and import facility.

The FAO estimates that more than 600,000 people were affected by the cyclone.

The World Food Programme said satellite images showed the creation of an inland sea that measures 125km long and 25km wide, larger than the European nation of Luxembourg.

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