Southern Africa: U.S. Addressing 'Immediate' Humanitarian Needs of Cyclone Idai Victims

The World Heath Organization took a delivery of oral vaccines in advance of a mass vaccination campaign.

The U.S. Department of Defense has authorized up to $15 million in aid to areas of Mozambique devastated by Cyclone Idai, the U.S. Africa Command said Monday.

USAID, the lead agency in charge of American aid to the crisis, had spent $6.2 million in relief as of March 31, officials told reporters Monday, adding that the current goal was to address the "immediate needs" of thousands of victims.

Brig. Gen. Robert Huston, U.S. Africa Command deputy director of operations, emphasized that combined U.S. dollar amount is a small portion of aid coming to Mozambique from international agencies, non-profits, and governments of other countries.

Huston specified Monday that the U.S. Defense Department provided fuel and transport of aid to a hub in Mozambique, from where international agencies including the World Food Program will distribute it across affected areas.

Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi two weeks ago. Over 700 people were killed, thousands were left homeless, and nearly 140 cases of cholera, a water-borne illness, have been reported in the city of Beira in Mozambique.

Officials say immediate priorities include distributing food and vaccines for illnesses including cholera and malaria, and ensuring shelter for victims.

Sureka Khandagle, leader of USAID's Disaster Assistance Response Team, also said they are prioritizing to make sure that "people moving from accommodation centers have something to go home to."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is focusing, however, on using its forensic resources to identify recovered bodies.

"Because of our exposure in armed conflict, ICRC entertains a major forensic network worldwide and we have dispatched some of our experts in order to ensure safe burial of bodies, identification of bodies, dignified burials of bodies," Peter Maurer, president of the ICRC, said in response to a question from VOA.

Moving forward, the United States, which currently has 250 people on the ground in Mozambique working full-time on relief operations, intends to reframe some of its long-term assistance programs in Mozambique.

"We've been a development partner with the republic of Mozambique for a very long time," said Bryan D. Hunt, U.S. Embassy Mozambique deputy chief of mission.

"We work in a number of areas agriculture, education, healthcare, economic growth environmental protection and we expect to continue to work in many of those same areas, but given the tremendous impact that this disaster has had in the center of the country and the fact that we're going to be looking at long-term development challenges there, we're looking already at how we can refocus some of our ongoing long-term development assistance programs to be of use to the government of Mozambique as they seek to rebuild what has been a very devastated part of the country," he added.

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