The challenges of returning home in flooded Mozambique

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By Hanna Butler, IFRC

Six weeks after floods tore through southern Mozambique, people are still living in camps without adequate shelter or assistance.

In late January, flooding destroyed towns and livelihoods in Gaza province, affecting almost 250,000 people and forcing 175,693 from their homes.

The majority have since returned to their villages to pick up the pieces of their damaged lives, but in Chaqualene, the largest camp, 6,000 remain, unable to leave.

As trucks load up families heading home to Chokwe, 30 kilometres away, Luis watches on. He cannot afford the 150 MT (US$3.75) fare. A double amputee, Luis was evacuated from his home by his son who carried him on his shoulders through water up to his neck. Since then, he has been living in the tented camp. “The force and the amount of flood water will have destroyed my house, nothing will be left and anything that is would have been taken by looters,” he says.

If he had the money, Luis says he would go home where he works as a shoemaker so he could earn money to rebuild. Instead, he waits in the camp doing nothing. There are many others like him.

Compared to many, Luis was lucky to arrive early and be allocated a tent. Shelter was initially the biggest problem – there were not enough tents to support the 50,000 people who arrived looking for refuge. Housing still remains a problem. People continue to live in makeshift tents made from cloth sheets and bits of plastic tied to trees. They span a vast area on both sides of the main road to Chokwe. Here, families cook, sleep and live out in the open. Trees have become a prized possession, being cut down for firewood for cooking or poles for tents.

Arleta is one of those still sleeping on a bamboo mat under a tree. She arrived six weeks ago with what she could carry. “I didn’t bring anything with me, just my children. I carried one on my back and one in my arms,” she says.

She doesn’t want to return to her village because she is afraid of further flooding. “Here I feel safe. I went to Chokwe, but seeing the destruction made me stressed and I remembered the strong waters. Here the floods cannot reach me.”

The government is offering flood affected people free land outside the flood zone for rebuilding, which Arleta says she will accept. But even then, she doesn’t know what she will do with the land, as she has no money to build a house.

People in Chaqualene say their only certainty right now is uncertainty. They say their situation is worsening because aid and relief agencies are also leaving for Chokwe, to support people as they return to rebuild. Those left at the camp say they need basic help so they too can be in a position where they can begin thinking about recovering and rebuilding.