Botswana + 2 more

Africa leaders okay flood rescue deal

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OWN CORRESPONDENT, Johannesburg - Friday 6.00pm.

Flood-ravaged southern African countries have agreed to co-ordinate their relief efforts. Ministers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana resolved at a Pretoria meeting to work together to resolve the current crisis and also to work together more closely in the event of future disasters.

Provincial and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi told journalists that appropriate structures had to be established in order to realise this objective.

These structures will probably include a Southern African Development Community Disaster Management Unit and a structure of officials to co-ordinate the activities of the four countries.

Within the next 48 hours, disaster management officials from all four countries have to produce a strategic plan outlining practical steps to mitigate the effects of cyclone Gloria, currently raging over northern Madagascar.

The defence forces of the four countries will meet within the next few days to co-ordinate rescue activities and share resources.

Mufamadi said SADC health ministers should also meet as soon as possible to draw up an action plan to deal with the possible outbreak of diseases.

The ministers would meet again within two weeks to review progress. Meanwhile, an international effort to help flood victims in Mozambique gathered pace on Friday as helicopters plucked people from trees they were sharing with poisonous snakes.

After complaints that the world was doing too little too late, governments have stepped up commitments to alleviate a disaster thought to have affected up to a million people.

The United States has mobilised search and rescue helicopters, C-130 aircraft and as many as 900 troops.

Britain is to send a navy ship loaded with five helicopters, fuel, drinking water, medical supplies and food, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced.

France is diverting a warship, the Jeanne d'Arc, that had been heading from South Africa to Madagascar so that its two helicopters can assist, the French embassy in Pretoria said.

Switzerland is contributing 10 million Swiss francs, its foreign ministry said.

The private sector has also begun to offer its services. In some cases firms are picking up the R17 000-an-hour cost of keeping choppers in the air.

Over 12 000 people had been plucked from rooftops and trees but there are no certain figures for those still waiting to be rescued or for those who have perished.