Madagascar + 1 more

Southern Africa: Floods update

JOHANNESBURG, 12 March (IRIN) - The international humanitarian community in Mozambique and Madagascar took advantage of a lull in rainy weather at the weekend to ship as much food, medicine and other emergency relief to isolated populations in the two countries as transport capacity allowed.

In Madagascar, UN officials again on Sunday appealed for more helicopters and light aircraft to complement the existing fleet of two government cargo planes capable of carrying loads only of 3 mt each. Latest official figures at the weekend put the number of people affected by the floods at some 700,000.

UN officials told IRIN they were awaiting the arrival of the French warship, Jeanne d'Arc. Carrying six helicopters, the ship, diverted from Mozambique, is due off the worst affected flood zone of the northeast coast on Monday. All weekend, WFP using the two government aircraft, shipped food to nearby towns from where the French helicopters will be able to take it to people cut off by flood waters, a WFP spokesman said.

Officials in the capital, Antananarivo reiterated their concern that the emergency in Madagascar had been overshadowed by the disaster in Mozambique. They also urged the international donor community to heed the UN's call last week that they also take notice of the "dramatic" plight of Madagascar. "Unfortunately, we do not have the media presence here to publicise our plight," a UNICEF spokesman said.

Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, has a population of about 15 million people, with a per capita GNP estimated at US $250, making it one of the 20 poorest nations in the world, according to UNICEF. It is also home to thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. UNICEF's Representative in Antananarivo, Dr Sergio Soro, earlier told IRIN that eyewitnesses had seen the corpses of people and many dead animals, such as the island's native monkey-like lemur, floating in the flood waters.

He cited "an immense impact on the natural and human environment".

The flood zones

Results of initial surveys show that the worst affected regions in the giant Indian ocean island 400 km off the Mozambique coast were in a band stretching across the north and centre of Madagascar. However the impact of cyclone Eline last month, and earlier this month of the weaker cyclone Gloria, had also been felt along the central west coast of the country.

The government rescue committee, the Conseil National de Secours (CNS), said at the weekend that an aerial survey on Friday had shown that the damage wrought by cyclone Gloria when it swept through during 2-5 March to have been less than expected. Though flood waters had cut off some villages, the damage in many towns was minimal and residents were starting to clear mud from the roads.

Those in need

WFP's senior representative in Madagascar, Haladou Salha, told IRIN on Sunday that the initial assessments conducted by the humanitarian community showed that at least 22,000 people were in "desperate need" of assistance, and that overall, more than half a million people had been affected by the floods. The government has said that at least 130 people lost their lives as a result of the cyclones which swept through the island and devastated Mozambique.

"We have been trying to pre-position as much emergency relief as we can during the weekend so that the first international helicopters coming in will be able to transport it directly to people in areas where the roads have been cut and farmlands destroyed," he said.

He said WFP was expected to deploy its own cargo aircraft in Madagascar from Monday afternoon.


During the weekend, WFP said two government aircraft were taking as much as they could ferry of 400 mt of emergency food rations to Antalaha and Vatomandry on the east coast, and to the west coast town of Belo-sur-Tsiribihina. UNICEF was distributing health kits, blankets, water purification tablets and biscuits.

The French chapter of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it was delivering 35 mt of emergency medical supplies over the weekend.

"Several cities are cut off from distribution lines of food provisions, and some villages are completely flooded. MSF, in collaboration with the CNS, will concentrate its efforts on the most isolated villages, to aid 10,000 families, or 50 to 60,000 people, who require immediate assistance," Pierre-Pascal Vandini, Assistant Director of Operations at MSF, said in a statement at the weekend.

Key concerns

UNICEF said at the weekend it was concerned that a cholera outbreak which had already infected 11,000 people in the past three months, could worsen.

Officials at UN agencies and NGOs said their immediate concern, however, remained the shortage of helicopters and aircraft to get relief to those most in need.


A break in Mozambique's rainy weather over the weekend enabled the humanitarian community to distribute emergency relief by air, road and boats making up for time lost late last week when the weather sharply curtailed the international relief effort to hundreds of thousands of flood victims.

The government at the weekend reported a death toll, so far, of 354 people.

Overall relief figures

Lindsey Davies a spokeswoman for WFP, told IRIN in a telephone interview from the capital, Maputo, on Sunday that some 365,000 people at 96 sites around the country were now receiving relief assistance. WFP, the lead agency in the Mozambique humanitarian relief effort, will launch a new multi-million dollar appeal to the international community on Monday, she said.

Since the floods started last month, she said WFP had delivered a total of 1,900 mt of food using helicopters, planes, lorries and boats from three logistical bases in the capital Maputo, Palmeiras further up the coast, and the second city of Beira.

"We expect the volume to increase daily as more roads around the country are repaired," she said. Currently WFP has 7,600 mt of food relief supplies in the country, sufficient to provide for one month's requirements. Consignments amounting to a further 18,000 mt of food purchased in Mozambique and neighbouring countries, she said was on the way.

"We have been receiving tremendous support from South Africa and neighbouring countries, including Zambia and Lesotho," she said. "It shows how the international community has come forward and how Mozambique's neighbours have come forward in this time of tragedy."

She said 59 helicopters and aircraft, 170 boats donated by various countries were currently able to deliver an estimated 120 mt of food to the country's flood victims every day. The operation was been managed by some 2,400 relief workers, roughly half of whom are military personnel.

"The cooperation and coordination with the military is going very well," Davies added. "The Mozambique crisis is showing the way forward in cementing relationships between governments and humanitarian and military organisations."

The weather

Water levels in most of the country's rivers had been decreasing steadily over the weekend. But she said rain was forecast for coming days in the country's central and northern provinces.

The government said on Sunday it would keep a "vigilant" eye on three rivers where water levels have, however, remained critically close to the flood alert stage. They are the Buzi and Pungue rivers in the central Sofala Province, the Licungo River in Zambezia Province further north.

"Although we are in the rainy season here, the weather is extremely unpredictable," Davies said. "We are dealing with probabilities rather than certainties, so it is important we keep an eye on the weather and use the breaks to get as much assistance in while it is dry."

Newly discovered victims

In its latest report on the situation at the weekend, the government disaster management authority, the Instituto Nacional de Gestao das Calamidades (INGC), said the medical NGO, Medecins du Monde (MDM) had found 3,000 people in the village of Goonda in Buzi district near Beira, who have been without food aid for a month. MDM reported a number of cases of severe malnutrition in children under five.

The weekly 'Sunday Times' of South Africa reported that Mozambique's former first lady, Graca Machel, now married to former South African president Nelson Mandela, had sent her daughter to investigate reports that some 5,000 flood victims had taken refuge at the Machel family's hilltop compound in Chilembene, some 250 km north of Maputo.

It said she approached the South African air force, which in recent days delivered two mt of relief supplies for people sheltering in and near the compound for the past 10 days from flood waters of the Limpopo River.


The INGC said GPS mapping of the flooded regions is taking place out of Beira, to assist planning helicopter missions. Riverine assessment operations and boat team training are also currently underway. The US Air Force on Sunday dispatched a heavy lift HF53 helicopter to Mozambique which is capable of flying in poor weather conditions.


It said the main priorities during the coming week would include an assessment of last week's rains, and the improvement of storage facilities at accommodation centres and camps around Mozambique.

In the farming sector, it said NGOs were helping draft a map of flooded farm lands, and that they had started distributing seeds, tools, fertilisers and veterinary kits to farmers. They were also encouraging the establishment of a central procurement system for all NGOs and other agencies.


Although there had been an increase in number of cases of malaria - the country's biggest killer - the mosquito-borne disease had not yet spread to epidemic levels, the INGC said.

"However, due to the exposed conditions in which many people are currently staying, and their lack of a complete diet, many people's immune systems will be extremely low. This issue does therefore need to be addressed," it said.

In Chokwe, in southern Mozambique three doctors from Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) had been conducting an average of 1,000 consultations a day, the report said.

Water and sanitation

OXFAM repaired a well in Chokwe, bringing the total number of operational wells with clean water and hand pumps to 28.

Shelter, accommodation and non-food support

The latest figures put the number of displaced families in Mozambique at 50,000. The shelter group has begun to examine how they will be assisted once the emergency relief phase begins to end. At present it said they were weighing four options - the distribution of an agreed amount of cash, distribution of "reconstruction packets" including construction materials and tools, the establishment of a system of credit notes, or a combination of these options.

"To enable a decision to be made on what should be done, the group will first carry out a rapid evaluation of the displaced population, speaking to local authorities and the people themselves. The group will also discuss issues with NGOs and donors that might potentially support the resettlement phase. It is hoped that a final decision will have been taken by Monday, and that the project document will be finalised by Wednesday.

Air transport

The US Air Force said at the weekend it would make a Hercules C-130 available to take large cargo loads from Maputo to Beira.

"Problems have been encountered regarding landing fees at Beira Airport," the INGC report said. "A declaration that all aircraft involved in the relief effort would be exempt from these fees had been made by the government. However, there appears to be some confusion as to whether or not civilian aircraft are included in this. Requests have been made for this issue to be clarified."

Resettlement and rehabilitation

The education ministry, supported by UNICEF, has completed a full evaluation of the damage caused to education facilities in Maputo Province. A further assessment is currently being carried out for the province of Gaza by a private company.


It said there had been no reported incidents involving landmines dislodged by flood waters, so far. The mines were planted during the country's civil war.


The British government announced on Saturday a further 12 million pounds (US $18.8 million) for Mozambique. The new package brings total British emergency aid so far to US $31.3 million. A government spokesman said the new funds would be allocated towards rescue and relief, rebuilding roads and bridges, strengthening local government capacity, and helping prepare for future disasters.


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