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28 March 2019

UN children’s agency launches AU$172 million (US$122m) humanitarian appeal amidst worst disaster to hit southern Africa in decades.

NEW YORK / SYDNEY, 28 March 2019 – An estimated 3 million people, more than half of whom are children, urgently need humanitarian assistance across Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai – the worst disaster to hit southern Africa in at least two decades. Today UNICEF launched an appeal for AU$172 million (US$122m) to support its humanitarian response for children and families devastated by the storm and its aftermath in the three affected countries, over the next nine months.

“The massive scale of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Idai is becoming clearer by the day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore who visited storm-ravaged Beira, in Mozambique, last week. “The lives of millions of children and families are on the line, and we urgently need to mount a rapid and effective humanitarian response across all three countries.”

The situation on the ground is expected to get worse before it gets better as more cyclone-affected areas become accessible. There is also very little time to prevent the spread of opportunistic diseases. Current conditions – stagnant waters, lack of hygiene, decomposing bodies, overcrowding in temporary shelters – can easily lead to outbreaks of diarrhoea, malaria and cholera to which children are especially vulnerable. 

The first cases of cholera have been confirmed in Beira, Mozambican authorities announced on 27 March, raising the stakes in an already desperate fight to help hundreds of thousands of people sheltering in increasingly squalid conditions. The five cholera cases were confirmed in Munhava, one of the poorest neighbourhoods. Cholera is a major concern for cyclone survivors now living in crowded camps, schools, churches and any land exposed by the still-draining flood waters.

UNICEF’s first priority remains the provision of safe drinking water. Together with partners, UNICEF has rehabilitated the drinking water system in Beira and are working with partners to do the same in other affected areas. UNICEF is also distributing water purification products in affected areas. In addition, another critical focus will be the vaccination against cholera. UNICEF, WHO and partners will soon begin vaccinating around 900, 000 people. WHO is currently dispatching 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to affected areas from a global stockpile. The shipment is expected to be sent later this week.

UNICEF is also deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of women and children who are crammed in temporary shelters and at risk of violence and abuse, as well as children who have been orphaned or separated from their families because of the storm.

In Mozambique, the most affected country, 1.85 million people, including 1 million children. are in dire need of assistance. In Beira, there is critical infrastructure damage and heavy flooding in urban areas as the water has nowhere to drain. Floodwaters have damaged crops just before the harvest season with up to 50 per cent of Mozambique’s annual crop production destroyed.

In Malawi, more than 869,000 people, including 443,000 children, have been affected, with over 85,000 people displaced.

In Zimbabwe, more than 270,000 people have been affected, half of whom are children.

UNICEF is ramping up its response for affected children and families in each of the three countries, working to expand access to healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene, and education services. The children’s agency and its partners are also focusing on preventing a spike in malnutrition, identifying children who may have been orphaned or separated from their families, and getting children back to school.