‘It will get worse’: Perilous times for kids hit by cyclone
Her name is Chuva, which in Portuguese means ‘rain’. For four days, that was all she saw as she clung to her rooftop in the cyclone’s aftermath and prayed to be saved.
Maria Chuva clasped her 5-year-old daughter, Amiel, to her tightly as she recounted the panic of opening her front door to water that came up to her neck, and scrambling with her family to the roof.
Now, after elbowing her way on to a rescue boat for a bewildering journey with her two girls to the inundated port city of Beira, she paused in the din of a displacement camp to reflect on losing everything but her children – and the splintered families now around her. The orphans are especially hard for her to bear.
“It hurts me so bad,” she said.
An estimated 900,000 children have been orphaned or separated from their families, made homeless or otherwise affected by Cyclone Idai, half of the 1.8 million people impacted overall, according to Mozambican government figures.
The children crowd displacement camps, sleeping rough on plastic tarps on bare brick floors, or on the wooden benches of crowded schools.
They slide down wooden bannisters, teeter on rain-slickened tile stairs near open cooking fires on the concrete floor. They play checkers with bottle caps. They squat around a metal pot as big as themselves, scraping its sides with their bare hands for the last remaining kernels of rice.
No one yet knows how many are orphaned, just as no one knows how many people in the cyclone-hit countries of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are dead or missing.
Families were separated in the chaos. Many children lost a mother or father, or both.
“We have quite a few orphans,” Henrietta Fore, executive director of the UN organisation for children, UNICEF, told a press conference at UN headquarters in New York on Monday. “We have calls out to their families. When they don’t respond for two or three days we have to fear the worst. So it is a very difficult situation for them.”
Initial assessments in Beira indicate that more than 2,600 classrooms have been destroyed and 39 health centres impacted. At least 11,000 houses have been totally destroyed. “This will have serious consequences on children’s education, access to health services, and mental well-being,” Fore said after her visit to Beira.
“The situation will get worse before it gets better,” Fore added, warning of diseases like cholera, malaria and diarrhea “which can turn this disaster into a major catastrophe.”