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21 March 2019

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SYDNEY 20 March 2019 – Right now, families in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe are facing widespread destruction brought by Cyclone Idai. With the UN warning the cyclone emergency is getting bigger by the hour, UNICEF and other aid agencies are moving quickly to respond.

 “Our full focus is on protecting the hundreds of thousands of children hit hardest by this cyclone and its ferocious flooding,” said James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson for Eastern and Southern Africa.

“While families and communities do everything in their power to cope with the crisis, the sheer scale requires outside support. As such UNICEF is delivering life-saving food, clean water, and medicines. We know the coming hours and days are critical, and UNICEF will continue to work 24/7 to support those most in need.”

In southern Malawi, UNICEF supplies have begun arriving in areas affected by heavy rains and floods, bringing a measure of relief to families living in evacuation centres. The supplies include thousands of packets of oral rehydration salts, antibiotics, and hundreds of insecticide-treated bednets. UNICEF is working in coordination with the Government of Malawi and the UN Country Team to deliver a joint humanitarian response.

“After a disaster like the recent floods, UNICEF’s priority is to help children and families who have lost their homes and are living in evacuation centres or with other families in their communities,” UNICEF Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig said. “We have emergency supplies pre-positioned in areas of Malawi that are regularly affected by natural disasters, which has allowed us to move quickly to meet people’s immediate needs.”

More than 922,900 people have been impacted in 14 affected districts across Malawi since 9 March, including an estimated 460,000 children, according to figures from the Department of Disaster Management and Preparedness (DoDMA). This includes 56 deaths and 577 injuries.

Additional rains associated with Cyclone Idai are complicating the humanitarian response, as access to vulnerable communities is already limited.  With thousands forced out their flooded homes, many families lack basic supplies including food, water and sanitation facilities. The floods have also disrupted learning for thousands of children.

Other supplies including mobile toilets, bathroom shelters, soap, water disinfection kits, and tents for temporary classrooms, have also reached affected communities.

Significantly more supplies have been dispatched from warehouses and are in transit to those in need. In addition, UNICEF is training volunteer teachers for deployment and supporting DoDMA to assess the situation using drones. Drone acquired photos and videos of the affected area are being used to assess flood damage to buildings and fields, and to help plan the humanitarian response.

In neighbouring Mozambique heavy rainfall is projected to continue in the areas hit by the cyclone. Beira City has suffered extensive damage, according to reports from preliminary assessments and aerial overviews. There is no road access to Beira at the moment.

UNICEF estimates that 260,000 children are among the affected population. UNICEF staff in Beira are working with the government in coordination with other disaster agencies. Due to severe flooding, the UNICEF warehouse in Beira, containing prepositioned supplies, was damaged.  

The affected population, including families and children, are desperately fighting for survival, taking refuge on elevated areas such as rooftops.

The emergency room at the hospital in Beira has been damaged, which means that no serious surgery is currently possible. Thankfully, the pediatric ward is functional and all newborns are safe.

Challenges remain in terms of search and rescue of thousands of people, including children; sufficient accommodation and transit centres for those affected; and access to clean water.

Cyclone Idai has also devastated major roads in Zimbabwe where UNICEF teams are still trying to get access to affected areas. Emergency supplies have all been prepositioned and are ready to be sent to the most vulnerable once UNICEF teams are able to reach them.