World

Mozambique confirms 1st cholera cases following Cyclone Idai

Authorities in Mozambique say five cases of cholera have been confirmed in the cyclone-hit city of Beira, the first confirmed cases announced since the storm hit on March 14.

Disease a major concern for hundreds of thousands living without clean water

Cyclone-ravaged Mozambique faces a 'second disaster' from cholera and other diseases, the World Health Organization warned. (Themba Hadebe/Associated Press)

The first cases of cholera have been confirmed in the cyclone-ravaged city of Beira, Mozambican authorities announced on Wednesday, raising the stakes in an already desperate fight to help hundreds of thousands of people sheltering in increasingly squalid conditions.

The five cholera cases were confirmed in Munhava, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the hard-hit port city of Beira, the national director of medical assistance, Ussene Isse, told reporters. The city of some 500,000 people is still struggling to provide clean water and sanitation after Cyclone Idai roared in on March 14.

"You know, cholera is an epidemic situation. When you have one case, you expect to have more cases in the community," Isse said.

Cholera is a major concern for cyclone survivors now living in crowded camps, schools, churches and any land exposed by the still-draining flood waters. The disease is spread by contaminated food and water and can kill within hours.

The World Health Organization has warned of a "second disaster" if waterborne diseases like cholera spread in the devastated region. On Tuesday, it said 900,000 oral cholera vaccines were expected to arrive later this week.

Cyclone Idai has left at least 1.8 million Mozambicans in desperate need:

The escalating crisis caused by Cyclone Idai has left at least 1.8 million Mozambicans in desperate need. CBC's Nahlah Ayed is there to give us the picture on the ground, along with the sounds of unbearable sorrow. 3:15

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi last week estimated that 1,000 people had been killed by the cyclone, after he flew over the vast expanses of the flooded plains of central Mozambique. The death toll could be higher than 1,000 said emergency workers, who add that the actual figure may never be known.

The cyclone has killed more than 460 people in Mozambique and left 1.8 million people in need of urgent help. The head of the United Nations World Food Program said many survivors will need help for at least the next six to 12 months to get back on their feet.

David Beasley says "lives are truly in the balance right now." He spoke after visiting hard-hit areas.

WFP says about 86,000 tonnes of commodities such as cereals and vegetable oil are needed in the next three months as nearly two million people are in need of urgent assistance.

The cyclone washed away about 400,000 hectares of crops on the eve of the harvest. WFP says the next main harvest is in mid-2020.

'Dramatic increase' in diseases likely

Health workers are opening clinics across the hard-hit city of Beira, the centre of relief operations for the region.

Some people in the city have resorted to drinking stagnant water by the side of the road, increasing the chances of diarrhea, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said. Other people are drinking from contaminated wells.

The aid group said it has seen hundreds of cases of acute watery diarrhea in the past few days.

"The scale of extreme damage will likely lead to a dramatic increase of waterborne diseases, skin infections, respiratory tract infections and malaria in the coming days and weeks," said Gert Verdonck, the group's emergency coordinator in Beira.

Some people in Beira have resorted to drinking stagnant water. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

Hurried efforts continued to restore running water to Beira. The United Nations children's agency said parts of the city's water supply system were working again, with "water running in 60 per cent of the pipes." The government also was operating water trucks.

Relief operations continued to explore ways to deliver aid to the city that remains largely reachable only by air and sea. More challenging was reaching rural communities, some of them still without contact with the outside world.

More humanitarian actors arrived as the United Nations urges the international community to fund a $282-million US emergency appeal for the next three months.

The UN refugee agency announced its first-aid flight had landed in the capital of Maputo with plans to immediately transport the tents, mosquito nets and other items to Beira.

Two other flights are planned for Zimbabwe and Malawi this week.

The death toll in Mozambique is now at least 468, with 259 dead in Zimbabwe and at least 56 dead in Malawi.

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