The number of casualties and people affected by Cyclone Idai in southern Africa looks set to rise from the two million currently estimated.
Rains are still falling and waters rising in some areas. The destruction of roads, bridges and communications means that some areas are still completely cut off. Search-and-rescue – and eventually aid and recovery – are being greatly hampered.
Oxfam Country Directors in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe all speak of a sense of people’s desperation in the hardest-hit areas, and of widespread destruction of crops and livelihoods.
Oxfam’s initial aims are to reach up to 500,000 people with aid, including clean water and emergency food, including in partnership with other international and local NGO partners.
Oxfam’s Country Director in Mozambique, Rotafina Donco, said there were people flooded from their homes and now in transit camps who hadn’t eaten for days. She said some people were still waiting to be rescued, clinging to treetops or on mountainsides.
Oxfam Country Director in Zimbabwe, Machinda Marongwe, spoke of “seeing the pain in people’s faces. Their hope is gone. Disaster following disaster.” Some people were without any clean water. “Aid could give them some hope … hope that others are listening and wanting to help them.”
Oxfam’s Country Director in Malawi, John Makina, said that in the camps, where displaced people had congregated from the floods and their destroyed homes, “there you can see how awfully they have been affected.”
Mr Makina said the camps were full of women during the day awaiting their husbands and sons to return that evening with whatever food they had been able to find. He said some communities were only able to be reached by helicopter or boat.
“Sanitation in some places is absent, with latrines and sewage systems washed away or destroyed,” he said. “People are having to defecate in the bush – this will lead to bad water-borne disease.”
The cyclone, with winds of 170km/hr and heavy rains, hit the port city of Beira in Mozambique, where 90 per cent of the land is under water and communications are cut off.
In Zimbabwe, where over more than 80 deaths have been officially recorded so far and hundreds more are still missing, roads are impassable and rescue helicopters grounded because of bad weather.
Fredrick Kupfambamhandu, Oxfam’s Water and Sanitation Team Leader in Zimbabwe, said: “Ascertaining the extent of damage has been difficult as the area is only accessible by air at the moment. The road network was greatly damaged. Zimbabwe army troops only managed to reach the affected areas on foot today.”
Netsai Shambira, Oxfam’s Regional Women’s Rights and Gender Justice Coordinator, said: “We are conducting a rapid gender analysis to inform our responses, because women and children are the most affected when disasters like this strike. Ensuring that they are safe and protected is important considering the long distances they are travelling.”
Donations to help Oxfam respond to emergencies around the world can be made to the International Crisis Fund – https://www.oxfam.org.au/icf