UNITED NATIONS, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Henrietta Fore, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), on Saturday called on the international community to help children affected by Cyclone Idai.
"We are in a race against time to help and protect children in the disaster-ravaged areas of Mozambique," Fore said at the end of a visit to Beira, one of the areas most affected by Cyclone Idai.
A week after the flooded Mozambican port of Beira was hit by Cyclone Idai, "aid agencies are barely beginning to see the scale of the damage," said Fore, as she called for more international support to help quickly get relief to more than 1 million people across the country and prevent the possible spread of waterborne diseases like cholera.
Initial government estimates show that 1.8 million people across the country, including 900,000 children, have been affected by the cyclone which slammed into the country last week.
"The situation will get worse before it gets better," said Fore, noting that as aid agencies get a clearer picture of the devastation, some have reported that entire villages have been submerged, buildings have been flattened, and schools and health care centers have been destroyed in the days since the storm struck.
"While the search and rescue operations continue, it is critical that we take all necessary measures to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases which can turn this disaster into a major catastrophe," she warned.
Initial assessments in Beira indicate that more than 2,600 classrooms have been destroyed and 39 health centers impacted. At least 11,000 houses have been destroyed. "This will have serious consequences on children's education, access to health services, and mental well-being," the UNICEF chief said.
"We are particularly concerned about the safety and well-being of women and children who are still waiting to be rescued or are crammed in temporary shelters and at risk of violence and abuse," she said, also raising concerns about children who were orphaned by the cyclone "or who became separated from their parents in the chaos that followed."
Cyclone Idai started as a tropical depression in Malawi, where it forced families from their homes into churches, schools and public buildings. Nearly half a million children are affected.