Congregants pray outside during a service after their church was destroyed by Cyclone Idai, in Beira, Mozambique, March 24 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Congregants pray outside during a service after their church was destroyed by Cyclone Idai, in Beira, Mozambique, March 24 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Beira  — Disease is threatening to aggravate the already dire conditions facing millions of survivors following the powerful tropical cyclone that ravaged Southern Africa 10 days ago, officials warned on Sunday.

Cyclone Idai smashed into Mozambique’s coast unleashing hurricane-force wind and rain that flooded swathes of the country before battering eastern Zimbabwe, killing 705 people across the two nations. 

“It is inevitable that cases of cholera and malaria will arise. In many areas we are already fighting with malaria cases,” said land minister Celso Correia at a briefing in Beira, 1,000km northeast of the capital Maputo.

Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also warned that disease outbreaks in inaccessible areas could be “really problematic”.

The World Food Programme said on Friday the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Mozambique is on a par with the situation in Yemen and Syria, which are both in the grip of civil wars.

Aid workers from across the world are continuing to arrive in the region to bring help to more than 2-million affected people across an area of about 3,000km².

Survivors are struggling in desperate conditions with some still trapped on rooftops and those rescued in urgent need of food and medical supplies.

“The government is already setting up a cholera treatment centre to mitigate cholera. We should not be frightened when cholera issues arise,” said Correia, describing efforts to control the emerging humanitarian crisis.

“It is normal. It’s almost inevitable. Malaria, we know how it arises. We have lots of wetlands and we’re going to have malaria that is sure to come up [there].”

Wilfried Deloviare, a 19-year-old resident of Beira, which was caught in the eye of the storm, said he felt “sorry for our town, our city, because we suffered a lot to build it”.

“Houses are completely destroyed, and some people don’t have money to rebuild their businesses — and many businesses are going to fail,” he said. 

More than 2-million people have been affected in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi where the storm started as a tropical depression causing flooding that killed 60 and displaced nearly a million people. Hundreds are still missing in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had recorded two cases of cholera so far but the UN was unable to confirm the reports.

Main access road opens

Stampa described efforts to reopen the main access road to Beira as a “big victory”.

“We will be able to bring more help to families living in this affected area,” he said.

Those living in affected areas of Mozambique began to trickle back to church over the weekend.

The Ponta Gea Catholic Cathedral in Beira was undamaged by the storm while the church next door was levelled.

“The people don’t know what to do because they lost their houses, they have no food, they don’t know where to sleep — this brings sadness and anxiety,” said Father Pedro who conducted a mass in darkness late on Saturday.

Much of the area hit by the cyclone remains disconnected from electricity supplies, complicating rescue efforts at nightfall.

As many as 109,000 people are living in shelters across central Mozambique, many of them located in and around Beira.

One survivor was six-year-old Elena Joaquin who clutched a coconut as she sat surrounded by pots and pans at a shelter in Buzi, southwest of Beira, where she had sought refuge along with her parents.

But life has slowly begun to return to normal in central Beira, where traffic is flowing more than in recent days and businesses are resuming trade.

AFP