Botswana + 1 more

New wave of floods ravages Southern Africa

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MAPUTO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Food aid began to reach flood-ravaged Mozambique on Thursday, but further unwelcome rain brought a new wave of death and destruction across southern Africa and recharged swollen rivers.

Across the region, more than 200 people have died in two weeks of flooding, around half a million people have lost their homes and water-borne diseases threaten hundreds of thousands.

Renewed flooding across northern parts of South Africa has killed at least 12 people, South African police said on Thursday, taking the toll to more than 55 this month.

"The latest death toll is 12. Ten of them died when their houses collapsed on them," said Northern Province police spokeswoman Ronel Otto.

More than 30 cm (12 inches) of rain had fallen overnight, bursting river banks, swamping parts of the country's main highway and bringing misery to thousands to the agricultural region.

United Nations officials in Maputo said they had had no official reports of cholera deaths, but South African radio reported that between 15 and 18 people were dying of the disease every day in Beira, Mozambique's second city.

Crops destroyed

Farmers and government officials in the region say floods boosted by the latest rains have destroyed crops probably worth millions of dollars and increased dependence on aid.

International aid agencies and the South African army flew food, tents, blankets and medicines to Mozambican communities isolated by floods that have destroyed roads and bridges and left low-lying farmlands under water.

In Palmeira, a small town north of Maputo, residents unloaded maize from helicopters arriving every 10 minutes.

A woman who had waited two days for flood waters to subside waded across the river with her two-year-old daughter, who was wracked with malaria fever.

Residents told Reuters another child had died of malaria earlier on Thursday.

"The situation is very critical, because here most of the people rely on agriculture and the plants on the low-lying lands are inundated so there is a big problem here," said Selizarda Marcos, of Mozambique's National Disaster Management Institute.

Marcos said relief agencies had delivered 964 tonnes of maize in the region, but this was far from enough.

Rivers in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe burst their banks as Cyclone Eline swept westwards from Mozambique, bringing new rains to lands waterlogged after more than two weeks of nearly continuous rain.

Mozambican officials said at least 150 people had died there and malaria and cholera had claimed their first victims.

Zimbabwe hit

In Zimbabwe, police said four people had died so far, three from drowning while one was electrocuted by falling powerlines.

Floods have swept away roads, bridges, dams and powerlines and left an estimated 250,000 people without food or shelter.

Responding to aid appeals by the Maputo government and the United Nations, Washington despatched two experts to Mozambique on Thursday to assess the scale of the crisis.

The European Union promised a million euros ($998,000) to help Mozambique and Botswana.

Portugal said it would give $2 million and announced it had asked the European Union Commission to join the aid effort.
Britain said it had already given $1.23 million in aid.

But Mozambique's Foreign Minister Leonardo Simao told a news conference in Maputo on Wednesday his government was in urgent need of $63.5 million to cover damages and repair infrastructure such as roads and bridges washed away by floods.

Clean water and food topped the wish list with antibiotics, disinfectant, cleaning materials and jerry cans also needed.
Neighbouring Botswana, where rains have already washed away 10,000 homes, was also watching warily as Cyclone Eline made its presence felt over the southern Africa country.

"The problem has assumed near nationwide crisis proportions," President Festus Mogae said in a national broadcast.
Botswana's Disaster Preparedness Committee said that more than 34,000 people urgently needed food and shelter. Public health workers expressed concern about the potential for an outbreak of disease, particularly malaria.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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