Over 400 schools destroyed by Malawi floods

More than 200 people have died and thousands more have been displaced by the heavy rains.

Swollen rivers and the lush green landscape offer evidence of the heavy rains that have lashed Malawi in January 2015. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN.

MALAWI - Malawi's High Commissioner to South Africa Stella Ndau says over 400 schools have been destroyed by heavy rains and flooding over the past three weeks.

More than 200 people have died and thousands more have been displaced by the heavy rains which are set to return next week.

Fifteen of the country's districts have also been declared disaster zones.

Several of Malawi's rural areas have also been isolated after bridges were washed away during flash floods.

Ndau says 415 schools have been destroyed.

"This means a lot of children aren't going to school. Some of them have also lost their parents, they don't have food, they don't have shelter."

At the same time, the Rescue South Africa team has arrived in Blantyre but an unexpected turn has left the group unable to reach the affected areas just yet.

About 25 rescue specialists are on a two-week mission to help people cut off from urban areas due to the floods.

The rain has temporarily subsided, but the team's cargo is still stuck in South Africa after the flight carrying it was cancelled.

Ndau says more rains are expected next week and people who are at risk are being moved.

MORE RAINS, MORE DEATHS

Aid agencies raced on Monday to reach tens of thousands of people displaced by catastrophic floods across southern Africa, as more heavy rain was forecast in the coming days.

"After surveying the flooded districts from the air, we know that the scale of flooding is immense, and with the rains still falling, the water is unlikely to recede quickly," Unicef's representative in Malawi, ahimbo Mdoe, said in a statement.

"Stagnant water and poor sanitation can be deadly for young children, so we are in a race against time to reach displaced communities with clean water, sanitation and medical supplies."

More downpours were forecast in Malawi and Mozambique, said the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).

"Torrential rains are also forecast for the southern regions of Tanzania as well as northern Zambia. These rains could worsen the flood situation in the region," Ocha said.

Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world with a population of 16 million, has been hardest hit, with at least 176 confirmed dead and 121,000 displaced. Its president has declared half of the landlocked country a disaster zone.

In neighbouring Mozambique, the government has reported 49 confirmed deaths and 33 unconfirmed deaths in "red alert" central and northern areas, Pasquale Capizzi, spokesman for the UN's humanitarian team in Mozambique, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Mozambican and South African armies and navies were conducting search and rescue operations, although heavy rains, strong waves, overflowing rivers and blocked roads were hindering efforts, Ocha said.

Aid was being delivered by air, Capizzi said, with 28,000 displaced in Mozambique's central coastal province of Zambezia, which borders Malawi.

More than 740,000 people in Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and Zimbabwe are likely to suffer crop losses in wake of the disaster, Ocha said.

Additional reporting by Reuters