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Humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Mozambique

Initial reports indicate at least 1,000 people have died and 400,000 made homeless, but the full scale of the suffering and loss Tropical Cyclone Idai has caused in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi is still not yet known.

“This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s recent history. It is a humanitarian catastrophe for the people of Central Mozambique."

Jamie LeSueur, who is leading response efforts in Beira for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“Large parts of Beira have been damaged, entire villages and towns have been completely flooded. Many, many families have lost everything,” says Mr LeSueur. Beira is Mozambique's fourth largest city and has a population of more than 500,000.

The true extent of damage will be clearer following assessments currently underway by Red Cross teams. “We expect that the number of people affected as well as the number of people who have lost their lives may rise.”

Red Cross is distributing shelter supplies to affected families and extra supplies are being brought in by ship from a French Red Cross facility on Réunion Island. Red Cross volunteers in Beira are also handing out chlorine so that people can purify water.

As well, Red Cross is helping reconnect separated families and has sent a forensics specialist to the area to help manage the dead in a dignified way.

Aid workers are worried about the health risks in the wake of the cyclone. "Waterborne diseases can increase in the aftermath of a disaster such as this due to the contamination of the water supply and disruption of usual water treatment. Outbreaks of viral gastroenteritis, hepatitis, cholera and other diseases could follow as a result,” says Mr LeSueur.

Malaria is endemic in Mozambique and the extensive flooding could result in stagnant water that could become the perfect breeding sites for mosquitoes.

IFRC and Mozambique Red Cross have launched an emergency appeal to support those worst hit by this disaster.