By Linda Bordoni
The death toll in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi continues to rise as rescue workers widen their search for survivors of devastating floods following a cyclone that ripped through southern Africa a week ago.
Pope Francis has called for prayer and support for those affected by the calamity triggered by Cyclone Idai and the Bishops from Southern Africa and across the continent are calling for prayers and humanitarian aid.
In Mozambique the death toll has risen to over 200 and around 15,000 people, many of them very ill, still need to be rescued.
Over 130 people have been killed in neighbouring Zimbabwe, and dozens in Malawi.
Humanitarian agencies say hundreds of thousands are in need of basic necessities and it is feared the death toll could rise sharply as rescue workers make their way to unreached rural areas.
CAFOD is the official aid agency for the Catholic Church in England and Wales. It has joined forces with Disasters Emergency Committee to reach as many people in need as possible.
Gabriel Bertani, CAFOD’s Country Representative for Mozambique, spoke to Linda Bordoni of the disaster that continues to unfold and of the importance of the Pope’s appeal.
Bertani, who knows the affected areas well as he has lived in Beira province for many years, explained that the communities worst affected by Cyclone Idai and by the floods are mainly in the central provinces of Beira and Kilimane, and said “they are rural communities that have been completely flooded.
“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are still under water, we don’t have final figures, but we think more than 1 million will be affected” he said.
Bertani said the situation is really critical and help is very urgent also because many villages are yet to be reached “so there are many people still waiting to be rescued, on top of the roofs of their houses, and they have been waiting for days – so it’s really a critical situation”.
CAFOD, he said, is working to support the first emergency rescue teams arriving in the areas.
“First of all we are supporting Caritas Mozambique and the Diocesan Caritas of Beira with a project to assist with food distribution, hygienic kits and water purification kits” he said.
He added that the CAFOD emergency response team will also be setting up an emergency coordinated action together with the national and international Caritas offices in order to provide the best possible response to the disaster.
The people are in need of everything
Reiterating that right now, food, shelter and clean water are of primary importance – and not forgetting those who have still not been rescued because they are in isolated areas - Bertani said that the country will be facing a long-term emergency because so many of these people have lost absolutely everything - their houses, their crops: “they will need our help to survive and to start again”.
He explained that CAFOD has joined forces with Disasters Emergency Committee – a UK Committee that brings together leading aid charities in times of crisis– in an effort to reach hundreds of thousands of people affected by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
“As CAFOD we have already made an initial pledge of £100,000 for Mozambique and $ 50,000 for Zimbabwe, but these numbers need to increase because every day we are receiving updates and needs are increasing every day” he said.
The worst disaster ever to strike the area
“I would say this is the worst disaster ever to strike the area” Bertani said, adding that “the situation is still so chaotic that we are still unable to evaluate what happened there”.
He said Pope Francis’ appeal during the Wednesday General Audience is absolutely fundamental
“I would say, first of all because I think we can all do at least a very simple thing to support these people, which is keeping them in our thoughts and in our prayers.
Regarding the Pope’s appeal, during which he expressed closeness to those who are suffering and implored for prayers and for support, Bertani said “this appeal from the Pope is absolutely necessary”.
Noting that the bishops from across Africa are also appealing for prayers and humanitarian aid, he said “I would say it is a personal call to respond to the cry for humanitarian assistance in whichever way possible".
As CAFOD, Bertani concluded, “we are setting up a big emergency response to reach as many people as possible and to help families who have lost everything, first of all to survive, and then to restart their lives: they must know they are not alone and we want to give them hope”.
Donations can be made directly through the CAFOD website.