LONDON (Reuters) - Half a million people in Mozambique are already in need of urgent help, and the country's crisis has not peaked, a top U.N. official said on Wednesday.
''It's an absolute disaster. This country was one of the success stories -- but what a knock-down blow,'' Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, told Reuters in an interview.
Bellamy, who visited Mozambique last week, said the United Nations Children's Fund had already channeled $1.4 million into helping people recover from devastating floods and a raging cyclone, with a U.N.-wide appeal due imminently.
She could not put a figure on the amount of aid needed but made it clear the crisis was widespread -- and worsening.
''It is a severe blow to Mozambique,'' she said. ''The impact is both immediate and will be long-standing. I don't think you can estimate how long it is going to take them to recover.''
Cyclone Eline raged across the impoverished southern African country on Tuesday, capping two weeks of devastating floods.
Eline ripped off roofs and knocked out power. Heavy downpours and high winds cut a trail of destruction through food-producing regions, with roads cut off in some regions.
Cholera, malaria and meningitis threatened hundreds of thousands of people jammed into shelter on high ground. Water-borne disease was already claiming its first victims.
''The worst is still happening,'' Bellamy said. ''There is no food, little clean water and it's still storming.''
At Least 150 Dead Since Rains Started
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi told Reuters in Maputo that at least 150 people had died since the rains started in January.
Another cyclone, Felicia, was due in a few days' time.
''I don't think we know at his point the numbers killed, but 800,000 people are already affected and at least half of those are in urgent need of food aid and assistance,'' said Bellamy, who was in London to launch a UNICEF drive against poverty.
Foreign donors have already begun sending food, medical supplies, money, planes and helicopters to deliver relief.
But Bellamy said weather was making some flights impossible and that bulging rivers had yet to recede. River, land and roads were indistinguishable under the swell of water, and UNICEF estimates that one in two people affected are children.
Bellamy said it was still too soon to talk about clearing up the mess -- the mess was still happening.
''It's not a matter of what's the impact or the aftermath. The waters are still coming. It's going to be a long-term clearing up but the crisis is still intense and the area (affected by the disaster) is expanding,'' she said.
Even before the cyclone, the worst rains in 30 years had left 200,000 people homeless in a country struggling to rebuild after 16 years of civil war. Bellamy said the natural disaster was a cruel blow at just the wrong time.
''In itself this is a disaster, but what a double disaster it is now,'' she said. ''Mozambique had come out of war. It was moving forward. It was poor but determined. What a setback.''
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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