Volunteers pack kits for southern African families devastated by Cyclone Idai

About 200 volunteers in Toronto spent hours packing family emergency kits on Saturday for people affected by Cyclone Idai in southern Africa.

GlobalMedic, a Canadian registered charity and a disaster response agency organized the local relief effort at its headquarters in Etobicoke. The volunteers assembled about 2,200 kits for people in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

"There's such critical needs in southeastern Africa. We can't sit around and watch children die," says Rahul Singh, executive director of GlobalMedic.

"You watch these images of these kids drinking filthy water and you understand that they are going to get a disease that is a waterborne disease and they are going to die needlessly. A kit like this, a solution that is just so simple, will keep them alive."

Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC

Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique on March 14. Then, as a tropical storm, it drenched Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Heavy rains and high winds from the storm caused flooding, damaged infrastructure and flattened houses and crops. Many people are missing and children have been orphaned. 

According to Reuters, the combined death toll from all three countries is now more than 700.

Singh said each kit contains: a point-of-use water purification solution, with enough water purifier to provide a family with 2,400 litres of clean drinking water; some hygiene items including soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste; and oral rehydration sachets.

The kits will be flown, some with the help of Air Canada, to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Singh said the charity has teams in those countries who will go door-to-door and camp-to-camp to distribute the kits.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

The charity sent a six-person team to Zimbabwe on Saturday that is bringing three point-of-source water purification units and four drones.

Singh said the drones, donated by FLIR Systems Inc. in Waterloo, Ont., will be used to survey infrastructure damage in Zimbabwe to help the country make the case for international funds. They will also support search and rescue efforts and can be used to make emergency maps.

The volunteers in Etobicoke included people who have lived in Zimbabwe and Mozambique or who have family there. The volunteers bring down costs because the charity doesn't have to pay for assembly, he said.

Herbert Nyathi, charge d'affaires for the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Ottawa, went to the event on Saturday. He said he was there to show support and appreciation for the relief efforts. His office has also issued visas for the team going to Zimbabwe.

"Actually, over the past week, I have been working very closely with GlobalMedic to arrange the movement of the donation from Canada to Zimbabwe," he said.

Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC

He said there is a need for materials such as beds, clothes, food, medicine and tents. 

Nyathi said women and children in a region known as the Eastern Highlands were particularly hard hit by the disaster.

"We are still trying to establish who is where and who is missing," he said.

"The need is great. It has washed away roads, homes, schools, bridges and crops and it has also affected livestock. It was quite a devastating cyclone.

"We are very grateful for Globalmedic for facilitating the mobilization of donations. It is quite humbling to realize that there are people here in Canada who are very concerned about the welfare of people in Zimbabwe, though they don't even know these people."

Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC

Kerry Grier, a Zimbabwe resident who has been living in Toronto for the past eight years, said volunteers wrote messages of hope on the boxes.

"Families receive the messages when they receive the boxes," she said. "It's great that it's in the news now and we want to be there to continue when the cameras have gone away. The work really begins when it's no longer in the news."

The Canadian government announced on Saturday that it will provide up to $3.5 million in emergency aid to humanitarian organizations helping people deal with the cyclone's impact.