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Disease fears mount in Mozambique

China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-26 09:30

Girls collect artificial flowers from the rubble of a building destroyed by Cyclone Idai at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Beira, Mozambique, on Sunday. [YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP]

BEIRA, Mozambique-Disease is threatening to aggravate the already dire conditions facing millions of survivors following the powerful tropical cyclone which 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 poor country before battering eastern Zimbabwe-killing 705 people across the two nations.

Amid the ongoing crisis, Zimbabwean television ZBC on Sunday reported that a young woman had given birth while sheltering from the floods in a tree.

Speaking at a briefing in Beira, 1,000 kilometers northeast of the Mozambique capital Maputo, Lands Minister Celso Correia said it was now "inevitable that cases of cholera and malaria will rise".

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' deputy head Sebastian Rhodes Stampa warned at the briefing that disease outbreaks in inaccessible areas could be "really problematic".

Aid workers from across the world are continuing to arrive in the region to bring help to hundreds of thousands of affected people across an area of roughly 3,000 square kilometers.

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 center to mitigate cholera. We should not be frightened when cholera issues arise," added 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 Deliviai, a 19-year-old resident of Beira, 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 which displaced nearly 1 million people. Hundreds are still missing in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

In its daily update, the UN Humanitarian Office said 74,600 women affected by the cyclone are pregnant and around 60 percent of them are due to give birth within the next six months. At least 7,460 are at risk of life-threatening complications.

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

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 miraculously undamaged by the storm while the church next door was leveled.

"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 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.

Those shelters also "run the risk of infectious disease such as diarrheal disease and measles", said James McQuen Patterson, UNICEF's health and nutrition chief.

"Further, as many families have lost everything, some sleeping in the open, the risk of pneumonia, particularly among children increases considerably," he said.


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