"I THOUGHT it was simple rain, but it wasn’t normal, it was torrential. So, I ran with my kids to a school to shelter. I have lost the crops, my clothes and my house. I only saved my children.”

Lucia Francisco, 33, is a mother of six, her youngest just six months old. Her village of Tica, just inland from the main port of Beira in Mozambique, was flattened by Cyclone Idai as it swept ashore with deadly force from the Indian Ocean three weeks ago.

By the time it had blown out, the cyclone had also swept through Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing more than 750 people and leaving almost three million people in need of humanitarian assistance as floods submerged vast swathes of agricultural land – at its peak the inland sea was the size of Ayrshire.

It is difficult to comprehend the scale of disasters like this and the misery and danger it’s now brought to so many people. As is nearly always the case, women like Francisco and her children are those most at risk.

Some 55,000 women in Mozambique and Malawi alone are due to give birth within the next six months. They face labour in these desperate conditions, with shortages of nutritious food causing anaemia and an inability to generate breast milk, further threatening babies born into this chaos.

In these chaotic days, many women are also at greater risk of sexual violence – some may be so desperate for food that they offer sex to help pay for it. In the longer term, girls may be married off young as families can’t afford to feed them. This short, extreme storm will leave a legacy of misery for years to come.

As Francisco and her neighbours assess the challenges ahead, the biggest immediate threat in the region is disease. With bore holes and water systems destroyed, desperate people take water from any stagnant puddle. In recent days, one temporary shelter has been home to 3000 people with just six toilets – conditions where disease thrives. Cholera cases are now being reported, along with increases in severe diarrhoea, which will almost certainly be accompanied by a rise in malaria cases. The World Health Organisation has said that the next few weeks are crucial, with speed of the essence to help save lives and limit suffering.

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 a 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. Our member agencies, like Christian Aid or the British Red Cross, have the expertise to know how and where your money should be spent, working together to save duplication, working with local agencies and leaders to make sure the aid delivered is appropriate for the context and aligned with the affected countries’ immediate and longer-term priorities.

Such is the emphasis now on locally led response that front-line staff working for DEC members can themselves be victims. The Mozambique country director of Tearfund, Edgar Jone, lives in Beira, the city that bore the brunt of Cyclone Idai.

“When I left my home to go and work in another town, I had no idea it would be the last time I saw Beira in one piece. Today, the city is partially submerged, and nine out of 10 houses are destroyed – including mine.”

After the roof of his home started to blow off, his family were evacuated – it was four days later before he knew they were all alive and well.

He is now back in Beira but says “the scale of catastrophe is immense. The city is devastated. Many of the houses are destroyed; there is no electricity, no water and no communication. A huge number of people have been displaced and need food, shelter and health facilities.”

Tearfund is one of the DEC’s members represented in Scotland and once again people here have responded magnificently. In just two weeks, more than £2 million has already been donated here, with the UK total nearing £30m. There has been strong Scottish Government and wider civil society involvement, along with support from some of Scotland’s leading companies. We should also thank the Sunday National and the wider Scottish media for helping to maintain attention on often forgotten international crises like this as domestic issues take precedence.

The sense of international solidarity here has been inspiring. With this support, lives are being saved and rebuilt.

Back in Beira, Jone and his Tearfund staff will be focussing on delivering chlorine tablets to make water safe to drink and provide shelter and clothing to his fellow citizens. The British Red Cross team has set up a field hospital in the city to provide urgent surgery and medical care for up to 30,000 people. They are also helping to re-unite families separated in the disaster and in the coming weeks will provide much-needed psychological support to deal with the longer-term impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Elsewhere in the region, Christian Aid are now delivering highly nutritious corn soya food supplements to mothers to boost their ability to produce breast milk.

As you may now be able to imagine, the need still far exceeds the funds that have so far been raised. In the coming days, further donations are vital to help us build and sustain the relief effort.

The damage to Beira, the main port for the region, will mean it will take years to fully recover. The vast low-lying surrounding area remains at greater risk from the effects of climate change. The storm also hit in harvest season, destroying crops, livestock and of course the meagre income that families like Francisco’s use to support their families and sustain local economies.

However, with your help, there is hope. We know many people across Scotland are proud global citizens, keen to stand with international brothers and sisters in times of crisis. You or others in your community may already have strong links with the region through the inspirational Scotland Malawi Partnership. If you can, please donate to www.dec.org.uk, to help women like Francisco, her family and her community, whose lives, through no fault of their own, have been shattered by the deadly power of nature.

Francisco has her children and a simple request: “I would like food and shelter. The food will help us be strong so we can rebuild our houses and lives.”

Huw Owen is the external relations manager of the Disasters Emergency Commitee in Scotland