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In Mozambique, Yemen and Venezuela crises, access for aid is hard to come by

Mozambique’s official death toll from a deadly cyclone in March has topped 1,000. In the storm’s aftermath, survivors face lack of power, food and supplies, plus deadly outbreaks of diseases like cholera and malaria. Amna Nawaz talks to David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, about his organization's response to that catastrophe as well as those in Yemen and Venezuela.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, the official death toll in Mozambique topped 1,000 today, after last month's deadly cyclone.

    The needs of many in the nations affected are enormous.

    And Amna Nawaz speaks now with a man who's helping to lead that crisis response.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the United Nations called it one of the deadliest storms on record in the Southern Hemisphere. Cyclone Idai ripped across Southern Africa nearly one month ago, destroying thousands of homes, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless, and turning massive swathes of ground into inland oceans.

    The full scale of the devastation is still unknown. A final death toll, officials worry, may never be known. Nearly two million people were in the cyclone's direct path, hitting Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, the country hardest-hit by the storm.

    And that is where executive director of the World Food Program, David Beasley, recently visited to see firsthand the scope of the damage and plan for a response that he says will several months.

    And he joins me here now.

    David Beasley, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • David Beasley:

    Well, it's good to be here. Thank you very much.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So you have visited countless disaster zones. What did you see on the ground here? What are the most immediate needs?

  • David Beasley:

    When we hit the disaster zone, it was quite remarkable, because we had helicopters coming in. In fact, we couldn't deliver food for the first few days because there was nothing available.

    We had to take our helicopters, use them to really pull people off the top of buildings, out of trees. It was a catastrophe. All the roads were shut down. Bridges were out, no electricity anywhere in the country.

    And so now, now, three weeks later, we have scaled up to about over 1.1 million people that we are supporting. But here's the problem. Not only have a quarter-of-a-million homes been destroyed or partially destroyed, it's — that's a catastrophe in itself, but the crops. Almost two million acres of harvest gone, and for the next crop, for the next harvest. So an entire year's worth of food is gone.

    So we are in a desperate situation. We need $175 million just for the next three months to keep people alive. At this stage, we have got about 40 percent. So we really are grateful to be here to let the people around the world know that we need help, and we need it now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you about the U.S. response now.

    The State Department had a briefing yesterday. The U.S. ambassador to Mozambique said so far the U.S. has donated about $40 million worth of immediate goods. Is that enough? Do you need more?

  • David Beasley:

    We will need more. And other countries are beginning to step up, the U.K., Germany, and others. And so we're hopeful.

    And this is why it's critical for people to understand, because the cyclone came and gone, but the damage is there. In today's world, it's all about Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, or Trump, Trump, Trump. And I'm like, whoa, we got people dying over here. We need your help, and we need it now.

    And so we're hopeful, but we need another $75 million just for the next three months. And then you have got the next nine months as we reconstruct, rebuild, because we still have children standing in water.

    The water was 33-feet-high. Certain villages are just completely gone. No electricity. Malaria, cholera kicking in. So we're not out of the storm yet on this thing. A lot more work to be done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There is also now the concern about a second wave of disaster, right? There's the waterborne illnesses that often follow, seasonal illnesses, a cholera outbreak, malaria outbreak.

  • David Beasley:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Are the folks on the ground equipped to contain that?

  • David Beasley:

    Yes.

    In fact, we brought in immediately 100 of our best personnel. We now have over 240 of our personnel on the ground spread throughout the country, because now we're getting access. We're rebuilding roads. We brought in engineers. We're bringing in the technicians for water supply, electricity, the things that are necessary.

    But this is a massive area, and so, without electricity, you can't get clean water in a lot of these areas. So malaria will kick in. Cholera is already beginning to dig in. So we're doing everything that we can to get the vaccines, medical supplies, as well as trying rebuild the power structures, working with the U.N., as well as other countries in the region.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There's another part of the world in which your teams are on the ground and another worrying cholera outbreak there. That's in Yemen.

    Four years of war there have just had unimaginable consequences for millions of people, mostly women and children. Our own Jane Ferguson has been on the ground reporting. She's been capturing some of these heartbreaking images, right, of children caught in the middle and starving.

    What is keeping your teams on the ground from being able to get the food and aid to these children?

  • David Beasley:

    Well, Yemen is the Earth's greatest catastrophe, literally, a nation of 30 million people, 20 million people food-insecure, 12 million people on the brink of starvation. And we are doing everything we can to get access we need.

    The funding is now coming in to the degree we need, but access is a critical dynamic and issue that we face every single day, our people in harm's way trying to get food out into the hinterlands for the people that need it.

    We say to all sides in this war, don't let these innocent people be victim to this conflict. The only way you're going to solve the problem is Yemen to end that war. And it needs to be ended.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But that access — that access, I should mention, is because of the insecurity. The violence has been escalating. Those Saudi-led coalition airstrikes continue. There were just two this morning.

    I want to ask you about this, because the U.S. Congress has taken an unprecedented step, the most serious step they have taken. They voted to end U.S. military assistance to the Saudi-led effort there, the war there.

    With the U.S. pulling out, would that help you to do your job, to get the aid where it needs to go?

  • David Beasley:

    Well, we will let the politicians make the political decisions about war and conflict.

    We just say, look, do not let innocent people suffer as a result of politics. There's children whose lives are in danger. There are children that dying as we speak. Give us the support, regardless of your politics. Give us the support we need. And support doesn't mean just money. It also means access.

    We have to have access, unimpeded access by all sides, to make certain that we keep people alive and give them a brighter future.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    One other incredibly dire situation in which your teams are on the ground, in Venezuela, a country already in trouble before.

    The power struggle exacerbated conditions. You have got severe shortages, a mass exodus of people. Meanwhile, aid trucks are stuck at the border. Do you have any, any indication that your aid will be able to make its way in anytime soon?

  • David Beasley:

    I wish we could talk about something good, but there's another country, a region in crisis.

    So we are supporting about a half-a-million people outside of Venezuela for those who cross into Colombia, Ecuador, and other regions. And we are talking now with both sides, hopeful to have the access we need to make certain that the innocent children and people do not get politicized, so that we can help support the people there.

    It is a — it is a very difficult situation. But we're making, I hope, some headway.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You believe there could be some movement soon, the aid could make its way in?

  • David Beasley:

    I hope so.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    OK.

    And that is, of course, the power struggle you mentioned before Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido.

  • David Beasley:

    We're talking to both sides as we speak, literally. As of today, we're still talking.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David Beasley of the World Food Program, thank you very much for being here today.

  • David Beasley:

    Thank you.

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