People queue for food in a camp for those displaced in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique. File picture: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Even before Cyclone Idai ravaged Mozambique two weeks ago, the country was listed as the second poorest country in the world according to the world’s leading economists. 

Zimbabwe is also ranked in the top 10 poorest countries in the world with 95% unemployment, and is now struggling to cope with mass devastation in the wake of Cyclone Idai. 

The poorest of the poor are being faced with the worst natural disaster Southern Africa has seen in decades, yet the world’s big powers are being stingy at best, providing minimal relief compared to what the UN says is required.  

In the wake of the massive devastation in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the UN made a flash appeal last Tuesday for US$282 million, but the world’s largest donors have pledged a paltry US$51.6 million - one sixth of what is needed. 

“The milk of human kindness seems to have dried up for this side of the world,” Minister for International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu has said, calling Mozambique’s President Felipe Nyusi "very lonely in his plight".

“This is the worst devastation I have seen outside of a war situation in Africa,” Sisulu said on her return from a helicopter trip over the devastation in Beira on Thursday. 

“The area is totally destroyed and resembles a rice paddy, and two weeks later the real body count begins. It seems the world has grown accustomed to disasters, and for many Mozambique and Zimbabwe are far flung and insignificant,” Sisulu said.

The needs on the ground are so great that the UN is set to revise its flash appeal in the coming days, and is expected to announce a new flash appeal far greater than US$282 million. 

Major donors are giving minimal amounts to relief efforts compared to what the situation calls for, while claiming great generosity, and some big powers are yet to even contribute to the relief efforts.  

The largest donor to the Cyclone affected areas to date is the United Kingdom, which is providing the equivalent of US$26 million in humanitarian relief, or 9% of the originally estimated total needs of the cyclone ravaged areas. 

The next largest donor is the United States which has pledged a total of US$7.5 million, which includes its US$3.4 million donation to the World Food Program.

Norway has pledged US$ 5.5 million, Germany US$ 4.8 million, Canada US$ 2.6 million, France US$ 2.2 million, Switzerland US$ 2 million, and Turkey US$1 million. 

China has provided an undisclosed amount of money and sent rescue and medical teams, and Japan has also been reluctant to disclose the money it has pledged, but sent disaster relief experts and medical teams. 

Russia is planning to send several transport aircraft with humanitarian aid. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have not been able to provide the amount they are providing to the region.  

“A few million dollars from each of the big donors will never meet the needs of the devastated countries in Southern Africa, it is time Southern Africa sees who its real friends are,” Dr David Monyae of University of Johannesburg told Independent Media.

Scientists predict that cyclones in the Southern Africa region are likely to become more frequent and intense given the impact of global warming. 

The irony lies in the fact that much of the pollution contributing to global warming is emanating from some of the big economies that refuse to dig deep into their pockets to assist the region.

Shannon Ebrahim is Group Foreign Editor