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Oxfam prepares to respond as Cyclone Idai leaves trail of death, destruction and homelessness in southern Africa

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People trudge through a muddied path to safer ground in Chimanimani, about 600 kilometers southeast of Harare, Zimbabwe. Mozambique Cyclone, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe - 18 Mar 2019 Photo: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP/REX

Oxfam will be responding with water, sanitation services, food and other non-food items to people affected by Cyclone Idai that hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe on March 14-15.

Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi has warned that the death toll could surpass 1,000, and officials say 90 percent of Beira, Mozambique’s fourth largest city, has been damaged or destroyed. Several hundred remain missing and almost a million people have been left destitute and in need of aid and basic services.

Oxfam has activated its Emergency Response Team of water and sanitation, food and livelihood experts to assess the needs of people worst affected in all three countries. They are reporting extensive damage to homes, crops, roads and bridges, and communications. Some areas have been rendered impassable with roads and bridges and phone lines having been washed away.

Winds of up to 140km/h (nearly 87 miles per hour) destroyed farmlands and damaged houses, some beyond repair. Damage is likely to run into millions of dollars. The Presidents of Zimbabwe and Mozambique have both declared a national disaster.

“We are still gathering data from the field. It’s clear that three provinces of Zambezia, Sofala and Tete have been hit particularly hard. Information is still trickling in. It is likely that Oxfam will respond in Zambezia and Beira at least,” said Lyn Chinembiri, Oxfam Zimbabwe Humanitarian Manager in Mozambique.

In Malawi the United Nations estimates that 739,000 people have been affected, exacerbated by floods that hit the country two weeks ago. Oxfam teams are assessing people’s needs in Phalombe and Mulanje districts, which were hit hard by floods.

Oxfam with support from UNICEF in Mozambique and utilizing its emergency funding in Malawi, is initially planning a three-month response with water, sanitation, and hygiene work, including providing purifying tablets, buckets and hygiene kits as well food aid to vulnerable households.

In Mozambique, Oxfam is part of the COCASA consortium (with CARE, SCF and Concern) that is being led by the General Director of the National Institute of Disaster Management. COCASA is focusing on emergency shelter, water and sanitation services, and other public service support.

"We regret the loss of life, and the first few days were difficult days as official agencies focused on saving lives and trying to assess the impact of the floods in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. We expect that there will be over a million people affected in the region. We are already beginning to focus on work that will help recover people's livelihoods, prevent water-borne diseases, and protect displaced people, with a key focus on women and children," Oxfam’s southern Africa Regional Director Nellie Nyangwa said.

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