"Dire" needs of southern African flood survivors unmet two weeks on

by Liisa Tuhkanen | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 23 January 2015 16:11 GMT

Child at Sekeni primary school, Malawi, where her community is camping ©2015 Charles Kabena / World Vision

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Aid groups say more funding is needed to provide basics such as food, and water and sanitation

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two weeks after floods first swept across southern Africa, tens of thousands of people urgently need clean water, food, shelter and medical care, aid agencies said on Friday, as more rain was forecast for worst-affected Malawi.

Torrential rain triggered floods in early January, affecting some 900,000 people across Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and Zimbabwe, with almost 250,000 people forced to leave their homes, the United Nations said this week.

In Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries with a population of 16 million, 62 people have been confirmed dead and 153 registered as missing. In neighbouring Mozambique, 86 people had lost their lives, the United Nations reported on Friday.

Aid groups said more funding was needed to provide basics such as food, and water and sanitation to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases including diarrhoea, malaria and cholera.

"There are thousands of displaced families living in camps now with no food. The needs are dire. There is no water, limited sanitation facilities as parents and children share the few toilets available," said Robert Kisyula, national director for World Vision Malawi, in a statement.

"These were unprecedented floods. They have shocked all of us: from government, to donors to the people," he added.

The floods, the worst the region has seen in decades, have submerged wells, washed away fields and livestock, and destroyed roads and bridges making it hard for aid groups to reach the hardest-hit areas to assess needs.

Thousands of people have been trapped in remote or flooded areas, cut off from medical care and other aid. Others are staying in cramped emergency shelters, where the risk of infectious diseases is high, aid workers said.

"Water sources and latrines have been flooded and displaced people in camps do not have basic water and sanitation facilities, placing them at risk of diarrhoea and malaria," said Oxfam spokeswoman Christina Corbett.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the disaster was likely to create long-term health challenges in the region where one in seven adults is HIV positive.

"Along with everything else people lost the antiretroviral drugs that they need to take every single day without fail, otherwise they risk having their health deteriorated and possibly building resistance to treatment," Amaury Grégoire, MSF's head of mission in Malawi, said in an emailed response to questions from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The U.N. World Food Programme said up to 370,000 people in Malawi need urgent food aid.

WFP said on Friday it had started distributing high-energy biscuits to people stranded by floodwaters in southern Malawi's Nsanje district, and aims to deliver food to 150,000 people in Malawi by the end of the week.

However, plans to scale up the emergency response have been hindered by a lack of funding, aid groups said.

The government of Malawi has said it needs $81 million to expand its emergency response and prevent further loss of life, but faces a funding gap of $67 million.

WFP said it needs $18 million to continue distributing maize, beans, vegetable oil and high-energy biscuits to survivors.

(Reporting by Liisa Tuhkanen; Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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