Above: Children in an isolated community in Mozambique wait as World Vision aid packages are distributed to their village. Image: World Vision.
World Vision is rushing to deliver plane loads of life-saving aid and to protect children at risk of abuse, in the wake of Cyclone Idai in Africa’s south-east.
Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi have been devastated by the cyclone, which hit the coast on March 14 with winds of up to 140km/h and is possibly the Southern Hemisphere’s worst ever weather disaster.
More than 1000 people have died and an estimated 1.8 million people are affected – half of them children – according to United Nations reports.
The cyclone flattened entire communities, destroyed much of the port city of Beira, and left floodwaters that have been described as an “inland ocean”. Many areas have been cut off meaning some people could still be clinging to life.
Risk of Child Trafficking and Abuse After Disasters
But floodwaters, overcrowded shelters and waterborne diseases like cholera aren’t the only things putting survivors at risk.
There are also predators and sex traffickers.
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World Vision CEO Claire Rogers, who flew to Mozambique over the weekend to survey the damage, said children are especially at risk of abuse and trafficking after natural disasters – especially those orphaned or separated from their families.
“Many children are on their own, unable to find their parents in the post-cyclone rescue chaos,” she said. “We must act fast to protect child survivors from sexual violence and trafficking. We’re troubled by reports that children are being taken to overcrowded orphanages or camps where they won’t be protected.”
World Vision is concerned about the long-term impact on children, who were already in very vulnerable situations. In some parts of Zimbabwe, many girls already suffer high rates of sexual violence, and Mozambique and Malawi both have high rates of child marriage.
“Disasters can force parents into sending their young daughters into marriage to cope with increased poverty,” Ms Rogers said. “We must remember just how vulnerable children in parts of these countries [already] were.
“We must act fast to protect child survivors from sexual violence and trafficking.”
~ Claire Rogers, World Vision CEO
“We’re working hard to get aid through, help families rebuild their lives, and protect children.”
Ms Rogers added that tiny babies in Beira’s main hospital died when the electricity for their care went out.
“This chilling fact demonstrates how children are always the most vulnerable in disasters like this,” she said.
Delivering Aid and Creating Safe Spaces for Children
On the weekend World Vision reached more than 3,500 people in Zambézia province with help such as tarps, tents, mosquito nets and blankets. They expect to reach tens of thousands of people over the course of this week.
They are also setting up child-friendly spaces, where children are safe to rest and play.
While in Beira, Ms Rogers described what she was seeing.
“The city has been wiped out, with almost all buildings damaged or destroyed,” she said. “The only access is by boat or air and people are without power and food.
“Planeloads of aid are arriving and we’re using locally available supplies, Ms Rogers said, “but with some communities only accessible by air, getting aid to those who need it urgently is taking longer than we’d like.”
According to UNICEF at least 11,000 houses in Beira have been destroyed, along with destruction or damage to more than 2,600 classrooms and 39 health centers – which will affect education and health care in the long term.
“This will have serious consequences on children’s education, access to health services, and mental wellbeing,” said UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
The United Nations has assigned US$ 20 million to respond to the emergency and is calling on the international community to dig deep and contribute.
With crops damaged or destroyed in Malawi and the breadbasket of Mozambique, there is now a long-term risk of hunger in the months to come
World Vision is urging Australians to donate to their Cyclone Idai Appeal.