Malawian people left homeless due to heavy rains queue for food at Chimwankhunda primary school in Blantyre on January 15, 2015
Blantyre (Malawi) (AFP) - The death toll from floods ravaging Malawi has risen to 176 with many more missing and 200,000 homeless, Vice President Saulos Chilima said Friday, as more heavy rain was predicted.
"The death toll is now 176 and over 200,000 have been displaced after their houses were destroyed by the floods," Chilima told a news conference. "At least 153 people are missing."
Speaking after flying in a military helicopter over the worst affected Lower Shire districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa in the south, he said the country faced "a big challenge".
Earlier, disaster officials warned that more heavy rain was expected.
"The government is urging people living in flood-prone districts to urgently relocate to upland areas to avoid losing more lives," said Paul Chiunguzeni, principal secretary for Disaster Management Affairs.
The floods, which have wreaked havoc on half the the country's 28 districts, have disrupted power supplies, plunging some areas into darkness.
Chirunguzeni said about 1,180 flood victims stranded on patches of high ground had been evacuated since rescue missions with military helicopters and boats were launched Thursday.
At his news conference, Chilima noted one piece of good news -- a woman was rescued Friday after giving birth while trapped by floodwaters.
"Both mother and the baby are fine," he said.
In a statement Friday, African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the organisation would give the "highest priority to providing modest humanitarian assistance" to Malawi "as soon as possible".
The World Food Programme said it would airlift stocks to flooded areas.
"Ready-to-eat food will be prioritised for the most vulnerable people, particularly children, who have been displaced from their homes and have no access to food or cooking facilities," the WFP said.
Five major roads in the south have been closed after bridges were washed away, including some on the road to the prime tourist destination of Mangochi on the shores of Lake Malawi.
This made an access to the hardest-hit areas "extremely difficult", the WFP said.
Hein Zeelie of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the central and northern parts of the country were the agency's next concern "as we are expecting heavy rains for those areas for the next week".
"A lot of preparation activities have been taking place for the rainy season, but no matter how well prepared one could have been, the extreme amount of rainfall would have led to this situation."
The country’s sole electricity provider Escom lost 35 percent of its power after shutting down two of its five power stations located on Shire River after they were damaged by floodwaters.
The government has also warned of the impact the floods will have on health services, fearing the spread of water-borne diseases.
"The health care system will be disrupted as people will not get services and some might have lost their drugs such as ARVs. Children will not be vaccinated," said Malawi's health ministry spokesman Henry Chimbali.
"Sanitation will be compromised now with waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid likely to occur."
President Peter Mutharika has called the floods a "national tragedy that urgently needs both local and international response".
Malawi shares a river system with neighbouring Mozambique, where some 52,000 people have been affected by floods, a source from that country's National Disasters Management Institute told AFP.
Local reports have reported 24 deaths, but Mozambican authorities have yet to confirm the figure.
Mozambique's weather service expects heavy rain in the south of the country until early Saturday, as the pressure eases in the central and northern areas.