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Floods in Southern Africa Update: Spring 2001

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Published
Floods in southern Africa have caused incredible amounts of damage. Houses, schools, roads, bridges, livestock and crops were all destroyed and peoples' lives were turned inside out when floods struck in 2000 and then again in 2001. Catholic Relief Services provided immediate emergency relief in 2000 and again in 2001, and is now shifting into longer-term rehabilitation projects to help the people of the region recover. To improve the capacity of our partners and communities across the region to cope with such natural disasters in the future, emergency preparedness and response training is crucial to promoting self-sufficiency among the population and to lessening the effects of future floods.
Catholic Relief Services has developed a long-term flood-response strategy, which will address the needs of the entire region. The strategy has four complementary elements:
  • Short-term infrastructure rehabilitation for the homes, schools and irrigation systems damaged by the flooding.
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response Training (EPRT) for local partners.
  • Integration of emergency prevention and mitigation measures into existing development programming and
  • Advocacy on issues that compound people's vulnerability to disasters, such as land reform, fair wages and debt relief.
Response in Madagascar

Madagascar suffered the most extensive damage in the region. The country was hit by three cyclones in 2000 and has been coping with additional severe floods in 2001. Catholic Relief Services dealt with the most immediate needs of the country such as covering food shortages, disease control, rebuilding homes and providing seeds for new crops.

Although it is the rainy season in Madagascar, this year's rainfall has been excessive-229% above normal for this time of year. Over two feet of rain fell on Antananarivo in the month of January alone. At one point, it rained for twelve straight days and so much rain fell that it would have taken a week for the water to recede to normal levels.

Resulting flooding rendered low and outlying arrondissements (communities of mud huts) inaccessible, leaving between 7,000 and 15,000 individuals cut off from basic provisions, and literally standing in water. The army, working together with the National Emergency Council, began evacuating arrondissement inhabitants to higher ground. Some residents were reportedly standing chest-deep in water for three days before the army was able to evacuate them.

Evacuation removed people from flooded areas, but little awaited them on drier land. Food supplies were low, there was no potable water, and dehydration was common. In one of the displaced person camps, organized by the National Emergency Council, five tents of plastic sheeting were erected and pit latrines were being dug in a space adequate for 150 people. As of the beginning of February, 150 people had been evacuated from one of the arrondissements while another 350 were awaiting boats to take them to safety. Initial provisions of rice and soap donated from local sources were inadequate for the flow of incoming displaced persons.

CRS is working together with the Government of Madagascar and the Catholic Church to help evacuate individuals from flooded arrondissements, and to provide them with much needed supplies once they reach dry ground. Family kits provided to flood victims include enriched flour and oil, sugar, dried beans, oral rehydration salts, candles, matches, blankets, water purification kits, plastic sheeting and antibiotics.

Now the country is facing its biggest challenge-trying to rebuild crucial infrastructure like roads, schools and irrigation and drainage canals. Madagascar is particularly vulnerable to devastating cyclones and this vulnerability accounts for much of the poverty in the country. How can a country possibly rebuild itself every year? The Southern Africa Flood Response strategy, with its emphasis on long-term recovery and emergency preparedness, will focus much of its attention on Madagascar to reduce this vulnerability in partnership with the communities worst-affected by the floods.

Response in Mozambique

Heavy rains in January caused massive increases in the water levels in both the Kariba and Cabora Bassa lakes. Floodgates on the lakes had to be opened in March and forced large amounts of water into the Zambezi Valley provinces. Communication lines in Mozambique are virtually non-existent and this has been a serious impediment to emergency relief. Some remote areas are only accessible by helicopter and many others are completely unreachable. Many of the people didn't expect the rains to last so long and have been forced to move far away from their homes to escape the floods. Very little of their previous life remains intact. Catholic Relief Services has contributed $50,000 to Cáritas Internationalis and Cáritas Moçambicana to help in their needs assessment and supply distribution in the area. Household and agricultural kits, seeds, shelter material/tents, feedings for malnourished people, transportation and communication equipment have all been identified as necessities in the country.

Response in Malawi

The floods that hit Malawi in 2001 flooded 13 of their 26 districts making them far more destructive than the floods of 2000. Approximately 340,000 people were affected and, in February, the President of Malawi declared that the country was in a state of disaster. As in the other countries in the region, Malawi suffered severe infrastructure damage. To combat some of the damages of the flooding, Catholic Relief Services/Malawi is working in conjunction with local partner Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM) to initiate a program to provide seeds to over 16,000 families in the Chikwawa and Phalombe districts. The seeds will replace crops that were lost due to the flooding, which will increase food security and help the people of Malawi recover from this disaster.

District
Villages
Affected
No. of Farm
Families
Damage to
houses
Damage to
Crops (Hectares)
Chikwawa
107
11,890
1,460
4,215
Phalombe
39
4,430
930
825
TOTAL
146
16,320
2,390
5,040


CADECOM will implement the project and Catholic Relief Services will provide technical support and management. Seeds for maize and vegetables will be supplied to designated beneficiaries and the plantings will be monitored locally helping to insure that the people of Malawi will have the capacity to handle situations like this in the future. CRS and CADECOM are also working on a longer five-year food security program and an emergency preparedness and response training program.

Background of the Situation

In the Spring of 2000, Southern Africa suffered from the most devastating floods in the last century. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar all suffered serious damage from the floods. With the exception of Madagascar with its annual cyclones, the countries in this region are more accustomed to drought than to flood. However, the entire region was afflicted by new flooding in January and February 2001.

Catholic Relief Services quickly moved into action after the floods to meet the most pressing needs of the affected population. Activities focused on distributions of food and necessities, cholera control programs and rehabilitation of damaged homes. The Agency is now moving into the more important phase of extensive rehabilitation and, most importantly, training the people of Southern Africa how to mitigate the damages of future flooding. Over the next three years, the Agency will commit $4 million in aid to achieve these goals.

Agency History

Catholic Relief Services opened its regional office based in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1989. The Catholic Relief Services program in Madagascar dates back to 1962, and has had programs in Zimbabwe and South Africa since 1989.

Copyright=A92001 CRS