Sally Foster Fulton, chair of the Disasters Emergency Committee in Scotland and head of Christian Aid, Scotland, on the situation in the areas devastated by Cyclone Idai – and how you can help.

Once again, extreme weather is causing devastation in the developing world, this time in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Just over a week ago Cyclone Idai swept in from the Indian Ocean through low lying coastal Mozambique and far beyond, leaving behind a trail of destruction. At least 600 people are reported dead, more than two and a half million people are at risk in the disaster area. The storms and floods ripped apart roads, bridges, houses, schools and health facilities and submerged vast swathes of agricultural land.

The bitter irony in natural disasters like this that there is water everywhere, but it brings only danger. Crucially, with little clean water available, disease rapidly looms. Cholera is already being reported, there are growing cases of acute diarrhea and with stagnant water likely to be present for weeks to come, malaria cases will undoubtedly rise in the near term.

Conditions in Mozambique are particularly challenging with fears that dams may break with water levels in the vast Zambezi basin perhaps rising another eight metres in the coming days.

It is when disasters strike on this scale that international relief efforts must be well co-ordinated – in the UK, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) takes the lead.

For more than 50 years, the UK’s leading international aid charities in partnership with the main broadcasters have built up a powerful network of expertise and compassion under the simple motto “Together We Are Stronger”. It has inspired millions to donate as it provides a clear one-stop shop for those who want to help, helping them make sense of what’s happened and making it easy to donate.

Those who do support also want to know that their money is going as quickly as possible to where there is the most acute need. The DEC helps answer this question by fostering co-operation and limiting bureaucracy which we know worries some potential donors. Working together saves duplication and supports our member agencies to co-ordinate and strengthen vital frontline networks with local agencies and leaders to make sure the aid we deliver is appropriate for the context and aligned with our host country’s immediate and longer-term priorities.

Here in Scotland, the DEC is building on this country’s proud history of global citizenship and the many inspirational networks of influence and action that have in recent years made a real difference to lives of so many affected by natural disasters like this. One such network is of course the Scotland Malawi Partnership which has help forge huge co-operation between the two countries in recent years and is already playing a key role in helping the country recover from this latest enormous setback. We will work closely with them in the coming days to keep the Scottish public informed about what is happening on the ground, what is needed and encouraging further support in the coming weeks and months.

Just two years ago, I visited communities in Malawi’s Nsanje district where great strides were being made by innovative farmers, using solar powered irrigation systems to water their drought-ridden crops. Communities working tirelessly to build for their future were succeeding – harvesting all year-round and planting new types of crops.

Our country manager, Pansi Katenga, now tells us all those years of work have been washed away in just four days. It is the same story with health. On my visit, I saw local empowerment groups working to strengthen health care for pregnant women, improving health centres and sharing vital awareness messages about maternal health. Again, many of these facilities have been devastated with hunger and disease threatening the most vulnerable. It is heart-breaking. We talk about compassion fatigue in the face of increasing challenges across our planet. Think how tired our sisters and brothers in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe must be right now. In the coming days, your support is vital to help us build momentum in the relief effort which is now starting to get under way. DEC member charities, including Christian Aid and others in Scotland are working closely with local partners to support the rescue and relief effort, delivering clean water, emergency shelter materials and blankets, as well as food such as pulses and maize flour along with urgent health supplies and assistance.

Of course, at this stage the primary focus of the relief effort is to save lives, but the effect of this disaster will be felt for some time. The risk of widespread disease and a secondary public health emergency is alarming. Cyclone Idai has also come at the worst possible time for food production in the region. March is the maize harvest season but many crops have been wiped out and livestock lost. The port of Beira in Mozambique, caught in the eye of the storm, would normally be a key supply route for goods to the region but it is largely destroyed. Economic consequences will be huge and long term. With this level of vulnerability and food security, there is a threat of hunger in the near future.

With your help, there is hope. We simply ask you to donate now to the Disasters Emergency Committee, either via our website at or via phone on 0370 60 60 610. You can also donate over the counter at any high street bank or post office, or send a cheque by post to Post: DEC Cyclone Idai Appeal, PO Box 999, London EC3A 3AA Please take a moment to give, anything you can give will help save lives and give people the vital support they need to rebuild their shattered lives.