No water! No fear! Kenya’s community leaders step up to coronavirus challenge

By Katharine Houreld

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Few residents in Nairobi’s sprawling informal settlement of Kibera have access to running water to wash their hands – but most have heard of a deadly new disease killing off people in China and Europe.

Although the disease was slow to hit Africa, more than 30 countries now have cases of the coronavirus – Kenya has seven. So concerned residents in neighbourhoods neglected by Kenya’s notoriously corrupt government are setting up handwashing stations and organising teams of volunteers to educate people about the disease.

“We can’t sit pretty in our houses knowing that tomorrow we may have a crisis beyond our control,” said Ed Gachuna, the chief finance officer of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), an organisation set up by Kennedy Odede, who was born and brought up in Kibera.

Community-led initiatives like SHOFCO’s coronavirus drive are far more likely to win compliance from residents than edicts from a government noted only for its neglect – an important lesson learned from the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa in 2014 and in Congo last year.

Kibera, home to more than half a million people, has little government presence bar an occasional policeman. There are no formal water connections. Residents illegally tap government lines using rubber hoses that leak into open sewers. Police cut them when they find them, said Gachuna, leaving the area waterless for days at a time.

But SHOFCO runs schools, clinics and a network of drinking water points linked by aerial pipes suspended far above the rubbish-strewn alleys, keeping the water clean. SHOFCO’s purification plant provides Kibera residents drinking water at heavily subsidised rates – 2 shillings (2 cents) for 20 litres.

On Wednesday, crowds of volunteers – some wearing T-shirts emblazoned “Fighting Coronavirus” – gathered at the SHOFCO offices, listening to a talk about symptoms and prevention before disappearing down the narrow alleys.

A friend of one volunteer approached, hand out to greet her, but the woman recoiled dramatically, shouting “Nooooooo – coroonaaaaaavirrrrrrus!” to peals of laughter from both women and appreciative cheers from children. The women put their hands on their hearts instead.

Behind them, young men tied large plastic drums and boxes of soap onto perilously tilting motorbikes to set up the first wave of 24 SHOFCO handwashing stations. Keeping the disease at bay is their only hope.

Many families here cluster into single-room shacks; few here have the space to isolate, or the luxury of working from home. Few can stockpile food either – most work daily jobs that earn a couple of dollars a day. The markets are busy and greetings enthusiastic.

“Africans love greetings and physical contact,” explained auditor Emmanuel Olima, shaking drops of water from his hands and one of the new handwashing stations. “So even if you hide your hands, you might not avoid a handshake.”

The stations are staffed by volunteers like 24-year-old Judy Adhiambo, whose dimpled smile greets each passerby as she tells them the symptoms of the disease and how to prevent it. Children squeal with delight at the water and suds, but the adults listen.

“Rub between the fingers very well,” Adhiambo advises a young boy washing his hands with his mother.

“Asante,” the woman says quietly as they leave – thank you.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

Smart drones to be tested in battle against E. Africa locust swarms

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United Nations is to test drones equipped with mapping sensors and atomizers to spray pesticides in parts of east Africa battling an invasion of desert locusts that are ravaging crops and exacerbating a hunger crisis.

Hundreds of millions of the voracious insects have swept across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya in what the U.N. has called the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, with Uganda, Eritrea and Djibouti also affected.

Authorities in those countries are already carrying out aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km (95 miles) in a day.

They threaten to increase food shortages in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said specially developed prototypes would be tested that can detect swarms via special sensors and adapt their speed and height accordingly.

“Nobody’s ever done this with desert locusts before. So we have no proven methodology for using drones for spraying on locusts,” said Cressman.

“There are already small atomizer sprayers made for drones. But with locusts, we just don’t know how high and how fast to fly.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts could grow by 500 times and move into South Sudan.

The impact on the region’s food supply could be enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

CAN DRONES WORK?

Climate scientists say global warming may be behind the current infestations, which have also hit parts of Iran, India and Pakistan.

Warmer seas have resulted in a rise in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean. This caused heavy downpours along the Arabian peninsula, creating ideal conditions for locust breeding in the deserts of Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Researchers are increasingly looking to technology to help provide early warning signs and control locust outbreaks amid fears climate change could bring more cyclones.

Officials in Kenya say drones could play an important role given the limited number of aircraft.

“Every county wants an aircraft, but we have only have five at the moment and they can only be in one location at one time,” said David Mwangi, head of plant protection at Kenya’s ministry of agriculture.

“We have not used drones before, but I think it’s worth testing them as they could help.”

Existing drone models are restricted in terms of the volumes they can carry and the distances they can cover due to their size and limited battery life, say entomologists and plant protection researchers.

Another challenge for drone use in such emergencies is the lack of regulation. Many east African countries are still in the early stages of drafting laws, prohibiting usage unless in exceptional circumstances and with strict approvals.

That makes it harder to deploy larger drones, which have petrol-powered engines capable of carrying tanks of up to 1,500 litres and travelling distances of up to 500 km, and often require special approval.

Drones can also be used in the aftermath of an infestation.

“The other use case for drones is in post disaster mapping,” said Kush Gadhia from Astral Aerial Solutions, a Kenyan firm that seeks to use drones to address development challenges.

“Governments need to know the extent of the damage afterwards. Combining larger satellite maps with smaller drone maps – which provide higher resolution images – will give more accurate assessments on the extent crop loss and health.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

‘Fragile’ Africa prepares for high risk of coronavirus spread

By Juliette Jabkhiro and Kate Kelland

DAKAR/LONDON (Reuters) – An isolation ward stands ready at a hospital in Khartoum, Sudan. Laboratories in Senegal and Madagascar have the testing equipment they need. Passengers arriving at airports in Gambia, Cameroon and Guinea are being screened for fever and other viral symptoms.

Africa’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says it has activated its emergency operation centre in the face of what global health officials say is a high risk the coronavirus disease epidemic that began in China will spread to its borders.

On a poor continent where healthcare capacity is limited, early detection of any outbreak will be crucial.

The fear is great that a spreading epidemic of coronavirus infections will be hard to contain in countries where health systems are already overburdened with cases of Ebola, measles, malaria and other deadly infectious diseases.

“The key point is to limit transmission from affected countries and the second point is to ensure that we have the capacity to isolate and also to provide appropriate treatment to people that may be infected,” said Michel Yao, emergency operations program manager at the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is barring its citizens from flying to China. Burkina Faso has asked Chinese citizens to delay travelling to Burkina, and is warning that they face quarantine if they do. Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda have all suspended flights to China.

“What we are emphasising to all countries is that they should at least have early detection,” Yao said.

“We know how fragile the health system is on the African continent and these systems are already overwhelmed by many ongoing disease outbreaks, so for us it is critical to detect earlier to that we can prevent the spread.”

John Nkengasong, Africa’s CDC director, told a briefing in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa this week that the activation of the emergency operation centre would create a single incident system to manage the outbreak across the continent.

The Africa CDC will also hold a training workshop in Senegal for 15 African countries on laboratory diagnosis, he said.

The continent has more than doubled the number of laboratories now equipped to diagnose the viral infection, this week adding facilities in Ghana, Madagascar and Nigeria and to established testing labs in South Africa and Sierra Leone.

“By the end of the week we expect that an additional 24 countries (in Africa) will receive the reagents needed to conduct the tests and will have the test running,” a spokeswoman for the WHO’s Africa Region told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa, Benoit Nyemba in Kinshasa, Thiam Ndiaga in Ouagadougou, Josiane Kouagheu in Douala, Pap Saine in Banjul and Saliou Samb in Conakry. Writing and reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Pravin Char)

African locust invasion deepens hunger crisis for Horn of Africa

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Climate change may be powering the swarms of desert locusts that have invaded eastern Africa, ravaging crops, decimating pasture and deepening a hunger crisis, locust and climate experts said.

Hundreds of millions of the insects have swept over the Horn of Africa in the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, says the United Nations.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts – already devouring huge swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – could grow by 500 times and move into Uganda and South Sudan.

The hungry swarms threaten to exacerbate food insecurity in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the swarms formed after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years, there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean,” said Cressman, adding that there were two cyclones in 2018 and eight in 2019.

“Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.”

The infestation from the Arabian peninsula has also hit countries such as India and Pakistan, with concern growing about new swarms forming in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Climate scientist Roxy Koll Mathew from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune said increased cyclones were caused by warmer seas, partly attributable to climate change.

“The West Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea, was warmer than usual during the last two seasons,” said Mathew.

“This is largely due to a phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole, and also due to the rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

If not contained, the potential for destruction is enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

Authorities are responding with aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km in a day and multiply at terrifying speeds.

The U.N. has appealed to international donors for $70 million in emergency aid to tackle the infestation and help communities to recover after losing crops and cattle.

Aid workers said increasingly erratic weather in east Africa – which saw a prolonged drought followed by heavy rains in late 2019 – was aggravating the infestation.

“This outbreak was clearly worsened by unusually heavy rains in the region and there is an interaction with the unusual cyclonic activity,” said Francesco Rigamonti, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator.

“It’s difficult to say that it is due to climate change – but there is an interaction between the two. What we do know is that we are having a lot of extreme events like droughts, floods and now locusts in the region, so we need to be prepared.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

‘Global ring’ involved in smuggling 39 found dead in UK truck, court told

‘Global ring’ involved in smuggling 39 found dead in UK truck, court told
By Michael Holden

CHELMSFORD, England (Reuters) – A court heard on Monday that a global ring had been involved in smuggling the 39 people whose bodies were found in a truck near London, as the driver faced charges of manslaughter and people-trafficking.

The discovery of the bodies last week in a refrigerated truck on an industrial estate near London has shone a spotlight on the illicit trade that sends the poor of Asia, Africa and the Middle East on perilous journeys to the West.

The truck’s driver, Maurice Robinson, appeared in Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court via video link. The 25-year-old, wearing a gray sweatshirt, spoke only to confirm his name, address and British nationality.

Robinson faces 43 charges in all – 39 counts of manslaughter as well as accusations of conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, and money laundering.

“This involves a global ring facilitating the movement of a large number of immigrants into the UK,” prosecution lawyer Ogheneruona Mercy Iguyovwe told the court. She said other suspects were still being sought.

Robinson did not apply for bail. He was remanded in custody until Nov. 25, when the case will continue at the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, and he will enter a plea.

He was arrested shortly after the bodies were found near the English port of Purfleet. The shipping container they were in had traveled from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

‘HOPING FOR A BETTER LIFE’

“The whole nation and indeed the world has been shocked by this tragedy, and the cruelty of the fate that has been suffered by innocent people who were hoping for a better life in this country,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in a book of condolences.

Interior minister Priti Patel told parliament the investigation would unravel “criminality that could stretch half way across the world”.

Many of the dead appear to have come from Vietnam’s northern rice-growing areas of Nghe An and Ha Tinh, two of its poorest provinces.

“If I could travel back in time, I wouldn’t have let him go this way,” said Hoang Thi Ai, mother of Hoang Van Tiep, 18, who is feared to be among the dead. “I clean his room every day with the hope that he wasn’t in that deadly truck.”

Police have said few of the victims were carrying official identification, and that they are resorting to fingerprints, dental records, DNA and photographs from friends and relatives.

Vietnam said Britain had sent dossiers seeking help in identifying four of the bodies.

Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son said Vietnam was still unable to confirm the nationality of any of the victims.

‘MY CHILD WAS SCAMMED’

Bui Thi Nhung, 19, is believed by her family to be one of the dead.

They said she had left Nghe An in August, making her way from China to Germany, then Belgium, where they believe she entered the container.

About 70 percent of Vietnamese trafficking cases in Britain between 2009 and 2016 were for labor exploitation, including cannabis production and work in nail salons, Britain said last year.

A report last March by the Pacific Links Foundation, a U.S.-based anti-trafficking organization, identified Nghe An as home to many victims of human trafficking who end up in Europe.

The other province, Ha Tinh, was ravaged in 2016 by one of Vietnam’s worst environmental disasters when a steel mill owned by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics contaminated coastal waters, devastating fishing and tourism.

Tiep’s mother said she believed her son had been tricked into traveling to Britain, since he had made it to France when he was 16 and settled down.

“One day he hastily asked us to raise 100 million dong ($4,300) for his trip,” Ai said, sitting with family members in their house in Dien Chau district of Nghe An province.

“My child was scammed. The guy who helped him organize the journey to the UK said the ‘VIP’ service was very safe, commuting in four-seat car – not that container.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge in London and James Pearson in Hanoi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

After Cyclone Idai, thousands still cut off, many more in need: aid agencies

FILE PHOTO: Women wait to receive aid at a camp for the people displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in John Segredo near Beira, Mozambique March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – One month after Cyclone Idai tore through southern Africa bringing devastating floods, aid agencies say the situation remains critical with some communities in worst-hit Mozambique only just being reached with aid.

The storm made landfall in Mozambique on March 14, flattening the port city of Beira before moving inland to batter Malawi and Zimbabwe.

It heaped rain on the region’s highlands that then flowed back into Mozambique, leaving an area the size of Luxembourg under water. More than 1,000 people died across the three countries, and the World Bank has estimated more than $2 billion will be needed for them to recover.

FILE PHOTO: Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

Over the weekend, aid agencies said thousands of people were still completely cut off and warned of the potential for a catastrophic hunger crisis to take hold, especially as aid appeals went largely underfunded.

Dorothy Sang, Oxfam’s humanitarian advocacy manager, said an aid drop was being planned for an isolated area where just last week 2,000 people were found for the first time since the storm. They had been surviving on coconuts, dates and small fish they could catch.

Oxfam estimates there are 4,000 people still cut off. Sang added that while often these weren’t the worst-hit by the disaster, they were already living in chronic poverty and now face huge challenges to survive.

“They risk becoming utterly forgotten,” she said.

On Sunday, Care International said the destruction of crops would compound existing food security problems across the region, and called on donors to find additional funds for the response.

Mozambique’s $337 million humanitarian response plan, largely made up of an appeal for $281 million after the cyclone hit, remained only 23 percent funded on Monday.

The United Nations has also requested $294 million for Zimbabwe, an appeal currently 11 percent funded. The government has separately asked for $613 million to help with the humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, U.N. children’s agency Unicef warned at least 1.6 million children need some kind of urgent assistance, from healthcare to education, across all three countries. Save the Children also said many are traumatized after witnessing the death and destruction wrought by the storm.

Machiel Pouw, Save the Children’s response team leader, said children and their families needed long-term help to recover.

“After a disaster of this scale, the world must not look away.”

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Nearly 2 million Mozambicans in need after cyclone: U.N.

School children and a man carrying food aid cross a river after Cyclone Idai at Coppa business centre in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26,2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Cyclone Idai’s deadly hit has left some 1.85 million people in need of assistance in Mozambique, the U.N. humanitarian agency said on Tuesday, as relief workers assess the scale of the disaster and determine what help is most urgently needed.

“Some will be in critical, life threatening situations,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, coordinator in the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs, said of the affected people.

“We’re now going out on the ground, dropping people off from helicopters to determine what the critical needs are.”

Idai flattened homes and provoked widespread flooding after slamming into Mozambique near the port of Beira on March 14. It then ripped through neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing at least 686 people across the three southern African countries.

Survivors of cyclone Idai cross a temporary bridge as they arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Survivors of cyclone Idai cross a temporary bridge as they arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Mozambique – which has a population of around 30 million – was hit hardest, with tens of thousands of homes destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced across an area of some 3,000 square km (1,200 square miles) – roughly the size of Luxembourg.

Receding flood waters have allowed greater access and a greater sense of how much people have lost. Thousands of people, stranded for more than a week by the flooding, are now being moved to safer shelters.

Increasingly, the relief focus has turned to preventing or containing what many believe will be inevitable outbreaks of malaria and cholera.

Though no cholera cases have yet been confirmed, health workers on the ground have reported an upsurge in cases of diarrhea – a symptom of the disease.

“We are testing as we go,” said Rob Holden, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) incident manager in the capital Maputo. “But nonetheless we are treating acute watery diarrhea, it’s the same as treating cholera. That’s just the diagnosis.”

BIG, DENSE POPULATION

Dozens of people queued in front of a clinic in Beira’s Munhava district on Tuesday, as nurses wearing surgical masks out a chlorine solution to prevent the spread of diseases like cholera.

“There is a big population, dense population in Beira,” said Gert Verdonck, emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). “Of course any spread of any kind of epidemic will be a lot quicker here.”

The WHO is dispatching 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine from a global stockpile. The shipment is expected to arrive within 10 days, and a first round of vaccinations will target 100,000 people.

Cholera is spread by feces in sewage-contaminated water or food, and outbreaks can develop quickly in a humanitarian crisis where sanitation systems are disrupted. It can kill within hours if left untreated.

Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has designated Mozambique a level three emergency, placing it on a par with Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. The agency is preparing to feed 1.7 million people in Mozambique.

The U.N. is appealing for $282 million to fund the first three months of the disaster response in Mozambique, and a total of $337 million. So far, only 2 percent of that amount has been funded.

SEARCHING THROUGH RUBBLE

In Zimbabwe, where 179 people have died, another 329 people were still unaccounted for on Monday.

In hard-hit Chimanimani district, villagers used hoes and shovels to dig through debris on Tuesday and search for missing relatives believed buried by the mudslides unleashed by the cyclone.

One family has spent a week digging day and night for four relatives, in what was once a settlement of 500 people but has been reduced to rubble.

Large rocks, some more than two meters (six feet) high, which rolled from a nearby mountain at high speed are what remains after the storm swept away a police camp, houses and an open market.

“I am an orphan now and I am so much in pain because I lost my brother who looked after me. He was more of a father to me,” said Sarah Sithole, 32, whose policeman brother was washed away while on night duty at the police station.

“We will continue searching until we find him and bury him. We will not rest,” she said, her hands and feet covered with red soil.

Around 95 percent of roads in affected districts have been damaged, impeding access to rescuers with earth moving equipment. Zimbabwe has requested for search dogs from South Africa to help look for those missing, a local government official said.

The WFP said it will aim to distribute food assistance to 732,000 people in Malawi and 270,000 in Zimbabwe.

(Additional reporting by Gift Sukhala in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

Rescuers hope to reach more cyclone victims as roads reopen in Mozambique

Aid workers offload maize meal for victims of Cyclone Idai at Siverstream Estates in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By Emma Rumney

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Rescuers said they would reach hundreds of people on Monday still stranded more than a week after a powerful cyclone struck Mozambique and swathes of southeast Africa, as roads started to reopen.

Cyclone Idai lashed Mozambique’s port city of Beira with winds of up to 170 kph (105 mph) around midnight on March 14, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and killing at least 657 people across the three countries.

An evacuee from Buzi village carries her belongings as she arrives at a displacement center near the airport, after Cyclone Idai, in Beira, Mozambique, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

An evacuee from Buzi village carries her belongings as she arrives at a displacement center near the airport, after Cyclone Idai, in Beira, Mozambique, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“We are more organized now, after the chaos that we’ve had, so we’re delivering food and shelter to more people today,” Mozambique’s Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia told reporters.

Correia said the number of people in makeshift camps had risen by 18,000 to 128,000 since Sunday, most of them in the Beira area.

Communities near Nhamatanda, around 100 km northwest of Beira and where some people haven’t received aid for days, would receive assistance on Monday, he added.

The cyclone and the heavy rains that followed hampered aid efforts and blocked deliveries of food and other essentials from Beira, which is an important gateway to landlocked countries in the region.

The water covering vast tracts of land west of the port has been receding, but the size of the disaster zone makes getting aid to the neediest difficult.

Aid workers distributed maize meal in the Chipinge district of eastern Zimbabwe – one of the areas where the cyclone wrought major destruction – while residents struggled without access to power or piped water.

“We lost all our perishables after Cyclone Idai,” Chipinge resident Kudakwashe Mapungwana said. “Since then we have no electricity at all and women are busy buying charcoal which is very expensive.”

Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said cases of diarrhea in Mozambique were increasing and they were keeping a close watch out for any outbreak of cholera.

“It’s a killer,” Rhodes Stampa said of cholera, naming the infection as one of his biggest concerns, alongside more flooding. But the weather for the next two weeks looked “pretty good” and dam releases were well-controlled, he added.

Correia said the death toll in Mozambique remained roughly unchanged at 447 on Monday. In Zimbabwe the tropical storm has killed at least 154 people, according to the government, while 56 died in Malawi.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer in Beira, and Philimon Bulawayo in Chipinge and MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Heavens)

Number of hungry children in Africa’s Sahel hits 10-year high

Rural women who have carried their malnourished children for days across the Sahel desert in search of [food] rush into an emergency feeding center in the town of Guidan Roumdji, southern Niger, July 1, 2005. [Niger's severe food crisis could have been prevented if the United Nations had a reserve fund to jump-start humanitarian aid while appeals for money were considered, a senior U.N. official said on July 19. Some 3.6 million people are in need of food, among them 800,000 malnourished children. About 150,000 may die unless food arrives quickly in the impoverished West African nation of 13 million.] Picture taken July 1, 2005. - PBEAHUNYKGE

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The number of hungry children in West Africa’s Sahel region reached a 10-year high in 2018 due to poor rains, conflict and high food prices, the United Nations said on Friday.

More than 1.3 million children under the age of five suffered from severe malnutrition this year in the six worst hit countries in the semi-arid belt below the Sahara – a 50 percent increase on 2017, said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

“When children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, they are more vulnerable to illnesses such as malaria and waterborne diseases,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa said in a statement.

Hunger is a recurrent scourge in the region, whose growing population grapples with high poverty rates and periodic droughts, the agency said.

This year the problem was particularly acute across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, it added.

An estimated 6 million people did not have enough to eat across the region during the lean season, according to the U.N. food agency (FAO).

Pastoralist communities were among the worst hit because poor rains meant there was not enough vegetation for grazing, said Coumba Sow, the FAO’s regional coordinator for resilience.

The Sahel has only one growing season and if it goes poorly due to climate shocks or conflict people must survive on whatever they have until the next one.

Global warming exacerbates the problem by making rainfall more erratic, said Sow, adding the rains were late and suffered a prolonged break, causing many farmers to lose half their seeds.

U.N. agencies and local governments were currently evaluating production levels for the new season, she said.

“We still hope that we will be able to get some good results in harvest, but it is too early to say,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

U.S. first lady Melania Trump lays wreath at ’emotional’ slave castle in Ghana

U.S. first lady Melania Trump greets a child during her visit at Cape Coast castle, Ghana, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

CAPE COAST, Ghana (Reuters) – U.S. First lady Melania Trump on Wednesday laid a wreath at a slave fortress on the coast of Ghana, vowing never to forget the place where Africans were held before being shipped away into further hardship, most across the Atlantic.

“It’s very emotional… I will never forget (the) incredible experience and the stories that I heard,” she said after seeing the dungeons and walking through the ‘door of no return’, the castle’s final exit toward the ocean.

U.S. first lady Melania Trump holds a child during a visit to a hospital in Accra, Ghana. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

U.S. first lady Melania Trump holds a child during a visit to a hospital in Accra, Ghana. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

She arrived in Ghana on the first stop of her first solo international trip as first lady, a tour of Africa, a continent her husband has been reported to have referred to derisively. She will also visit Malawi, Kenya and Egypt.

President Donald Trump has not visited Africa since taking office in 2017. In January U.S. media reported widely that he described African states as “shithole countries” during a discussion with lawmakers about immigration. He has denied making the remark.

The 17th century Cape Coast castle, now a monument, has attracted world dignitaries including America’s first black President Barack Obama and his family, who also shared their emotions at the site.

During her tour on Wednesday, Melania Trump walked slowly with a guide through various wings, asking questions. She passed a row of cannons and descended into a dungeon where male slaves were held in chains.

“It’s really, really touching,” she said. “The dungeons that I saw, it’s really something that people should see and experience, and what happened so many years ago — it’s really a tragedy.”

U.S. first lady Melania Trump waves as she meets with Fante chiefs to gain permission to visit Cape Coast castle, Ghana, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

U.S. first lady Melania Trump waves as she meets with Fante chiefs to gain permission to visit Cape Coast castle, Ghana, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Before proceeding to the slave castle, she visited the palace of the head chief of the area and obtained royal approval to visit the fortress after presenting drinks to the chiefs.

The ceremony took place in Obama hall at the Emintsimadze Palace, a hall that was renamed in Obama’s honor after his visit to the area in 2009.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Kwasi Kpodo; Editing by Peter Graff)