April 2 (UPI) -- More than 800 people have died and thousands more could contract cholera in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in southeast Africa.
The flooding from the massive storm killed nearly 600 people in Mozambique alone. More than 100,000 houses were damaged or destroyed.
The United Nations said as many as 1.8 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid to prevent hunger or an outbreak of cholera. Mozambique has confirmed more than 1,000 cases of the water-borne disease.
The disease causes dehydration and diarrhea and can be fatal if not treated. One person has died from cholera so far.
"The next few weeks are crucial and speed is of the essence if we are to save lives and limit suffering," World Health Organization regional director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said in a news release. "We must do everything we can to protect the people of Mozambique from a disease outbreak or other health problems caused by lack of access to essential services."
President Filipe Nyusi called the Category 2 storm the "worst humanitarian disaster in Mozambique" history. He announced a campaign to vaccinate 800,000 people against the disease. The WHO will deliver 1 million doses of the vaccine Tuesday. Access to clean water is also important.
"The logistics are in place and we will start right away," WHO incident manager Rich Holden said. "Speed is of the essence, we know how effective the vaccine can be. We are as ready as we can be, will be pushing it out as fast as we can."
The flooding destroyed the pediatric ward at Pontegera Health Center in the coastal city of Beira, including the clinic's equipment and supplies.
Cholera outbreaks infected 1,799 people in Mozambique from August 2017 to February 2018.
Malaria is also a concern, prompting the WHO to distribute 750,000 insecticide treatments to the area to keep the mosquito population down.
Cyclone Idai packed 109 mph winds and heavy rains that submerged villages in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
The storm flooded farms, destroying crops just as they were ready to harvest, the United Nations reported. That sent food prices soaring, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network reported. More than 1.6 million acres of crops have been damaged.