Cyclone Idai: Storm hit some of Africa’s poorest... they need our help says Belfast councillor Kate Nicholl
Zimbabwe-born Belfast councillor appeals for donations to storm relief fund
In the last two weeks Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi have been hit by the most dangerous storm on record in the southern hemisphere.
Cyclone Idai made landfall at the Mozambique port town of Beira on March 15. It destroyed everything in its path and around three million people have been affected. It is believed that 90% of Beira has been wiped out.
The full effects are not yet known, and it is likely that the combined death toll of 740 across the three countries will rise significantly in the coming weeks.
Cases of water-borne diseases like cholera are now being confirmed.
Such a devastating storm would be terrible anywhere, but South East Africa is one of the most underdeveloped regions in the world.
After years of drought the cyclone has come at the worst possible time. March is the maize harvest season, but many crops have been completely wiped out and there is a real risk of hunger and starvation in the region.
At least 400,000 people have lost their homes, in many cases they have watched them literally swept away in front of their eyes.
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Thousands of children have been separated from their parents who are frantically looking for them. Search and rescue missions have begun, but the destruction of road networks has made this very difficult.
All of this in countries that already suffer from high levels of poverty and with very little infrastructure.
As much as three-quarters of people in the affected areas live below the poverty line and they need our help.
It has been almost 20 years since me and my family left Zimbabwe. My parents had moved to Marondera, about 20 miles outside the capital Harare, so their children would grow up free from the shadow of the Troubles.
My mother is the daughter of anti-apartheid activists and both my parents were inspired by the newly independent Zimbabwe, seduced by its proximity to South Africa and drawn by political hope. Resilient, kind and almost relentlessly optimistic, the people of Zimbabwe are incredible.
In the last few years they have faced hardships that most of us can only imagine and yet still they always see the bright side. The last 20 years have seen the country suffer hyperinflation, political violence and persistently high poverty levels.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) is a group of 14 of the UK's leading aid agencies who come together in the face of disasters like Cyclone Idai.
Working closely with local partners, DEC launched an immediate appeal to raise funds to deliver emergency shelter kits, food such as pulses and maize flour, water purification tablets and urgent health assistance.
The total scale of the disaster cannot yet be known, but our response is making a difference already. DEC has so far raised £23m and in Northern Ireland we have together raised more than £400,000 to help survivors rebuild their lives.
Generosity in times of adversity saves lives and aid is now getting to those in most need.
Northern Ireland and the people here have always been known for reaching out and helping those most in need. The people of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique desperately need us now.
Kate Nicholl is an Alliance Party member on Belfast City Council and was born in Zimbabwe. You can donate to the DEC appeal by going to www.dec.org.uk