A major aid operation is under way in Mozambique and Malawi to help victims of Tropical Cyclone Idai, which has reached the densely-populated Mozambican port city of Beira, after registering maximum wind speeds of nearly 200 kilometres per hour.
Exceptional rainfall before the cyclone hit, has already affected a total of 1.5 million people in both Southern African countries and claimed more than 120 lives.
The cyclone has now reportedly moved west, towards Zimbabwe.
In addition, tens of thousands of people have been displaced and homes, roads, bridges and crops have been washed away, World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson, Hervé Verhoosel, told journalists in Geneva.
“Tropical Cyclone Idai…has compounded destructive flooding that has already occurred as far inland as southern Malawi and eastern Zimbabwe,” he said.
It is not yet clear how many people have lost their lives since the storm hit, although on 13 March, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that flooding had killed at least 122 people in Mozambique, where 66 are reported to have died, and Malawi, where the death-toll stands at 56.
In a statement issued on Friday, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “deeply saddened by the loss of life, destruction of property and displacement of people due to the heavy rains and flooding caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai.” He extended condolences to the families of the victims.
“The United Nations expresses its solidarity with the Mozambique authorities and stands ready to work with them as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from this natural disaster,” he added.
Satellite imagery shows that Malawi’s Chikwawa district has been particularly badly affected by flooding, while Mozambique’s Zambezia and Tete provinces have also seen tens-of-thousands displaced and more than 168,000 hectares of crops reportedly affected.
“We expect that some of the zone will have difficult or no access at all,” Mr. Verhoosel said, noting that rising water levels on the Zambezi river will affect the many villages and small cities that line its banks and which rely on it for trade and transport.
In Mozambique, help for people displaced by the flooding is being provided in 10 transit centres in Zambezia and two in Tete.
A first round of needs assessments has been completed, but crucial follow-up visits have hampered by fallen powerlines, overloaded mobile phone networks and the fact that airspace is closed over Mozambique because of the weather conditions.