Aid agencies struggle to rescue Mozambique cyclone victims

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Mozambicans stands in a queue to receive food from the World Food Programme in Nhamatanda, about 100 kilometers west of Beira, on March 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
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In this photo supplied by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre survivors of Cyclone Idai arrive by rescue boat in Beira, Mozambique, on March 21, 2019. (Denis Onyodi - Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre via AP)
Updated 22 March 2019
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Aid agencies struggle to rescue Mozambique cyclone victims

  • Tropical Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi last week
  • The confirmed death toll stood at more than 300 and hundreds of thousands of lives were at risk

BEIRA, Mozambique: Aid workers raced on Wednesday to help survivors and meet spiralling humanitarian needs in three southern African countries battered by the region’s worst storm in years.
Five days after tropical cyclone Idai cut a swathe through Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the confirmed death toll stood at more than 300 and hundreds of thousands of lives were at risk, officials said.
Mozambique, where the monster storm made landfall early last Friday, is reeling.
“We’ve thousands of people ... in roofs and trees waiting for rescue,” Caroline Haga, spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said.
“We are running out of time. People have been waiting for rescue for more than three days now,” she told AFP in the storm-ravaged coastal city of Beira.
She added: “Unfortunately, we can’t pick up all the people, so our priority are children, pregnant women, injured people.”
Survivor Aunicia Jose, 24, speaking in the district of Buzi near Beira, said, “The situation is very bad, we haven’t eaten since Thursday, until today.
“We are sleeping outside, everything is destroyed, our houses are destroyed, everything is gone, we have recovered nothing.”
World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Deborah Nguyen told AFP in Beira that “the priority today is to rush to rescue people trapped in the flooded areas” as much as organizing temporary shelter for those rescued.
“The situation has not really improved. In Buzi, the villages are still under water but the good news is that there are many rescue teams working all day long.
“Relief operations are progressing, but there is still a lot of work.”
The UN said it was “one of the worst natural disasters in southern Africa,” and launched an international appeal for relief funds, having earlier said it was aiming to help some 600,000 people in coming weeks.
“We do not yet know enough about the level of destruction to give an accurate estimate of the amount of this call for funds, but it will be important,” spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said on Tuesday that 202 people had died, according to the latest toll, and nearly 350,000 people were at risk.
In Zimbabwe, the death toll stood at 100 on Wednesday but was expected to surge to 300, while up to 15,000 people are estimated to have been hit by the storm.
In Malawi, nearly a million people have been affected and more than 80,000 forced from their homes, according to the UN.
Aid agencies said they were prepared for the cyclone which made landfall early Friday, but not for the massive floods that followed.
Mozambique bore the brunt from rivers that flow downstream from its neighbors.
Beira airport which was partially damaged by the storm and temporarily shut, had re-opened to become the relief operations hub but is proving not large enough.
Air force personnel from Mozambique and South Africa have been drafted in to fly rescue missions and distribute aid which can only be airlifted as roads out of Beira have been destroyed.


A government worker who asked not be identified spoke from a roadside after he was rescued by boat in Nhamatanda, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Beira, saying “this is the first time our generation has seen something like this.”
Climate expert John Mutter, a professor at the Earth Institute at New York’s Columbia University, said the heavy toll was partly explained by the infrequency of such weather events in southern Africa.
“Mozambique and Zimbabwe are essentially unprepared. They both have weak governance that, honestly, focuses on many more pressing things (as they would see it). And because cyclones are so rare in this part of the world, so preparedness is minimal,” Mutter told AFP.
In Zimbabwe, at least 217 people are listed as missing in Chimanimani in Manicaland, an eastern province which borders Mozambique.
The district remains cut off after roads were swallowed by massive sinkholes and bridges were ripped to pieces by flash floods — a landscape that Defense Minister Perrance Shiri said “resembles the aftermath of a full-scale war.”
Families were using hoes to dig through mounds of soil in search of their missing relatives, an AFP correspondent saw.
After visiting some of the victims in Chimanimani, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said “a tragedy has visited us.”
“The last place we visited, where three main rivers merge, an entire village was washed away. I think those are the bodies which are now being found in Mozambique,” he said.
The three countries are some of the poorest in the region and depend heavily on foreign aid.
In Rome, Pope Francis expressed “my pain and my closeness” for those caught up in the disaster.
“I entrust the many victims and their families to the mercy of God and I implore comfort and support for those affected by this calamity,” he said, addressing thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.


Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

Updated 21 May 2019
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Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

  • Madrasas to be absorbed by Ministry of Education in wake of Easter Sunday attacks
  • More than 100 arrests have been made following the rioting. A curfew has been lifted and life is returning to normal

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday refused permission for a planned $10 million (SR37.5 million) Shariah university in one of the country’s main cities.

And in the wake of the deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks on hotels and churches, the premier also announced that all madrasas would be brought under the umbrella of Sri Lanka’s Education Ministry.

The latest moves by the Sri Lankan government follow widespread unrest on the island, with anti-Muslim riots having caused damage running into millions of dollars.

Wickremesinghe’s orders came after a fact-finding report into the university compiled by MP Ashu Marasinghe. He recommended that the institution, being constructed at Batticaloa, in the Eastern Province, should be privately operated and titled Batticaloa Technology University. The new education complex is located close to the township of Kattankudy where suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings, Zahran Hashim, lived and preached his messages of hate and violence.

The Sri Lankan government analyst’s department said on Tuesday that DNA tests proved Hashim died in the attack at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

President’s Counsel, Ali Sabry, a prominent lawyer and political analyst, told Arab News on Tuesday that the premier’s announcement was welcome.

“We don’t need a Shariah university at this juncture when there is a lot of suspicions on various Islamic topics that need to be clarified by Islamic theologians following the suicide attacks by Muslim extremists,” Sabry said. He stressed that the country’s main focus should be on strengthening ways to ensure peaceful coexistence among all communities.

The Sri Lankan University Grants Commission had a set of guidelines to license new universities, and Wickremesinghe’s latest recommendations would also be included among the requirements for a new university, Sabry added.

The prime minister’s ruling on madrasas (Islamic seminaries) would provide more transparency on the activities of the institutions, he said. “Their curriculum and their co-curricular activities should maintain a common standard and these madrasas should prepare the students to make them fit into society instead of just learning Arabic and Islam only.”

M.R.M. Malik, director of the Muslim Affairs Ministry in Colombo, told Arab News that currently all madrasas function under his ministry. “There are 317 madrasas throughout the island with an estimated 25,000 students. In addition to the local teachers, there are 38 Arabic teachers and 85 foreign students,” he said.

Most of the teachers are from Egypt, Pakistan and India, while many of the overseas students studying at the madrasas are from Libya, Pakistan, Jordan and India.

Sri Lanka Muslim Council President N.M. Ameen told Arab News that the local community had never wanted a Shariah university. However, he said the proposed curriculum for the madrasas should be constructed in consultation with Islamic scholars and the Muslim community.

Meanwhile, Western Province Gov. Azath Salley, revealed that damage caused by anti-Muslim riots had reached nearly Rs900 million (SR19.2 million). The governor was speaking to Arab News following a visit to some of the worst-affected villages on the island.

“Speaking to the families of the vandalized properties, it’s clear that an organized gang had attacked these earmarked properties owned by Muslims,” said Salley. “One child, whose father was killed in his presence, is still in a state of utter shock and dismay.” He added that turpentine oil had been poured on the face of the dead carpenter by his killers and set on fire.

The governor urged the authorities to bring the attackers to justice. He added that the government would provide compensation to victims of wrecked properties.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasakera said that more than 100 arrests had been made following the rioting, and that a curfew had been lifted and life was returning to normal.