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People wading through flood waters in Buzi, Mozambique, after Cyclone Idai. Photo: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

After making landfall earlier this month, Cyclone Idai caused devastating flooding and destruction throughout Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving up to 1,000 people feared dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The big picture: The UN called Idai "one of the worst natural disasters to hit southern Africa in living memory." Shortages of food and clean water and the risk of contracting fatal diseases like cholera or malaria only make the situation worse.

Details: Like the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the post-Idai emergency didn't initially receive the attention crises of this scale often do, though the international humanitarian system has begun to respond.

  • Farmers have lost crops and livestock in the floods, and many impacted areas were already facing food insecurity. In response, the UN's World Food Programme has sent 20 tons of high-energy food, but more supplements will be needed.
  • Regional communications and transportation remain major challenges. Local officials are rushing to restore power while government workers slowly repair and reopen roads that were washed away.
  • Experts have warned of a "ticking time bomb" of disease as survivors are exposed to bacteria-infested flood waters. The World Health Organization has sent 900,000 oral cholera vaccines to the region (at least 5 cases of cholera have already been reported) and is preparing to send 900,000 bed nets in anticipation of a spike in malaria.

Where it stands:

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has authorized $700,000 in emergency assistance — an amount likely to climb — and deployed a response team to Mozambique to determine the extent of the damage. Personnel from U.S. Africa Command have also been dispatched.
  • Nonprofit groups from Save the Children to the International Committee of the Red Cross have stepped up to deliver supplies, provide health services and help reunite families.

The bottom line: Even the smallest shocks to regions like southern Africa can trigger vicious cycles of poverty, violence and conflict — and the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai was anything but small. Hundreds of thousands of people now depend on a robust international response that will need to be sustained from emergency management through to rebuilding.

Gayle E. Smith is the president and CEO of the ONE Campaign and a former administrator of USAID.

Go deeper

41 mins ago - World

South Africa says it's being "punished" for detecting new COVID variant

South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly on September 22, 2021 in New York City. Photo: Eduardo Munoz - Pool/Getty Images)

South Africa said Saturday it's being "punished" for detecting the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries rush to enact travel bans and restrictions.

Driving the news: The U.S. imposed air travel restrictions from eight countries Friday in response to the Omicron variant. Countries in Europe and Asia have also implemented their own travel restrictions in response to Omicron.

Trump can't quit mainstream media

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are interviewed by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" in September. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.