300 000 homeless in Mozambique

Originally published
Johannesburg, South Africa. February 24 2000

As impoverished Mozambique struggles to deal with the aftermath of floods and Cyclone Eline, a second tropical cyclone is bearing down on the country.

By CHRIS MCGREAL in Johannesburg

The president of Mozambique has appealed for some R300-million in aid to deal with the aftermath of massive floods caused by a combination of the worst rains in 50 years and tropical cyclone Eline, which hit the country on Tuesday.
At least 160 people are believed to have died in the flooding, and about 300 000 people have been left homeless, with many cut off without food or drinking water.

With large parts of southern and central Mozambique inaccessible after weeks of rain, the extent of the damage and the final death toll were still unclear yesterday. Huge tracts of land are under water, and officials say 800 000 people have been affected in some way. Meteorologists forecast that a second storm, cyclone Felecia, will hit the region within days.

"The needs are for the urgent alleviation of the situation," said President Joaquim Chissano. "For reconstruction we will need seeds and agricultural implements because, as soon as the water goes away, we will need to plough and plant again, along with blankets, tents and more food for the displaced."

The cyclone destroyed houses, knocked out power lines and uprooted trees as it hit land near the port of Beira with winds up to 200km/h.

Two people were electrocuted by falling power cables. Kate Horne, Oxfam's representative in Mozambique, flew to Chibuto town in Gaza province yesterday. She said that in one village, 14 families driven from their homes by the floods were crammed into one small house.

"It looked like all of that part of Gaza had become sea with the occasional tree sticking up or bit of road. People left their houses in such a hurry. All the women said they watched the rains flood their fields, and the fields are their only source of income for the year. Then they watched their goats and cattle drown. Then they watched their houses fill up and they ran for higher ground," she said.

President Chissano and the United Nations say that R80-million is needed for emergency food and medical supplies, and to provide basic shelters for the homeless. A further R220-million will be required to rebuild the infrastructure, government officials say.

Britain and other EU countries have already sent more than R10-million in emergency aid, and a UK disaster management team is being provided. Aid workers say the greatest danger now is from waterborne diseases and malaria.

South African and French air force planes resumed aid flights yesterday but the collapse of a bridge between the capital, Maputo, and the town of Xai-Xai further hampered relief efforts.

Mozambican officials say in private that South Africa is compounding the misery by easing pressure on its dams through the release of surplus water into the Limpopo river which flows on through Mozambique.

After leaving Mozambique, Eline weakened, but still brought heavy rains as it moved on to Zimbabwe.

-- The Guardian, February 24 2000.