JOHANNESBURG - Mozambique says it needs $3.2 billion to recover from a pair of powerful tropical cyclones that ripped into the southern African nation earlier this year and left hundreds dead, raising alarm about the effects of climate change on coastal nations.
That's according to a government assessment supported by the World Bank, United Nations and European Union for a global pledging conference that begins on Friday.
Some aid workers fear the worst is yet to come. The storms wiped out crops on the eve of harvest in one of the world's least developed countries, and many people must rely on food aid well into next year. More than 1.3 million people are said to require emergency food assistance.
Cyclones Idai and Kenneth killed more than 650 people in Mozambique, plus hundreds of others in Zimbabwe and Malawi. A final death toll may never be known as some bodies were washed away.
It was the first time in recorded history that two tropical cyclones struck Mozambique in a single season, with one making landfall farther north than ever recorded. The country's 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) Indian Ocean coastline is one of the world's most vulnerable to global warming .
The cyclones will worsen poverty in the region and recovery will be 'extremely challenging,' the government assessment says.
'It's getting worse with time, steadily,' Mahmoud Shabeeb, spokesman with the aid organization CARE, told The Associated Press, saying the next harvest season isn't until March of next year. 'If people receive assistance, they eat. If not, they don't eat.'
Cyclone Idai in mid-March brought widespread flooding that created an 'inland ocean' and left panicked residents clinging to rooftops and trees for days across central Mozambique, the country's breadbasket. In the region's main city of Beira , population roughly 500,000, many rooftops were peeled away.
Six weeks later Kenneth arrived in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, shocking residents who had never experienced such a powerful storm. A long swathe of coastal communities was destroyed, and some areas are still difficult or impossible to reach.
'The sound was like a pack of angry wolves,' Ahmad Baroudi, a spokesman with the aid group Save the Children, told the AP after visiting devastated Ibo island and hearing accounts of the storm. Residents told him how they had struggled to put one foot in front of the other in the hurricane-force winds, and how everyone - even those not thought to be religious - were praying.
The cyclones' effects on children have been widespread, Baroudi said. Fewer are going to school. Some are exposed to abuse and neglect. Some must work or engage in 'survival sex.' Many are drinking unsafe water. Livelihoods have been destroyed.
'This response is surprisingly underfunded,' he said. Just 30% of the U.N. humanitarian appeal for Mozambique has come in. 'This [pledging] conference comes really at a crucial time.''