Thousands of families in urgent need of support as heavy rains sweep across southern Africa

By International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cres

GENEVA, Switzerland, January 16, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Weeks of heavy rains have left tens of thousands of families homeless and in desperate need of support across Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

“Homes have been washed away. Crops have been destroyed. People have lost everything. While many are seeking shelter in schools and churches, we are hearing of families also living under trees,” said Michael Charles, acting regional representative, southern Africa, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “We need to scale up rapid deployment of resources to ensure these people receive the support they so desperately need.”

An estimated 106,000 people have been displaced in Malawi, along with 90,000 in Mozambique, and at least 6,000 people in Zimbabwe.

With water sources contaminated and sanitation infrastructure damaged, concerns are also mounting over a possible outbreak of disease. “We are focusing on two key areas at the moment. Providing shelter to make sure everyone has someplace dry to stay, and getting clean water to affected populations to mitigate the spread of diseases like cholera or acute diarrhoea outbreaks,” added Charles.

IFRC has activated its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to kickstart response activities in Zimbabwe, in support of 2,500 people. Further funding will also be allocated for activities in Malawi and Mozambique and Field Assessment Coordination Teams (FACT) are being mobilized. To date, Red Cross volunteers from the affected countries have been assisting in search and rescue operations, providing relief items such as tarpaulins, mosquito nets and blankets, and registering displaced families. They are also involved in conducting rapid assessments to determine the most pressing needs and identify gaps.

In Malawi, the hardest hit country, Red Cross teams have managed to reach 7,000 households with emergency relief items. But with roads washed out in all three countries, access is proving a challenge.

“Every year at this time, the people of southern Africa are faced with having to flee their homes because of flooding,” explained Charles. “The Red Cross has helped communities prepare by pre-positioning stocks, training staff and volunteers, and raising awareness in communities of how they can be better prepared. But it is clear we need to do more. We cannot stop the heavy rains. But we can work with communities to ensure they are better situated, so they are not affected so adversely.”