Chastened Donors step up aid to Mozambique

By Emelia Sithole

XAI-XAI, Mozambique, March 2 (Reuters) - Donor nations sprang into action on Thursday in the desperate race to gather flood survivors from trees and rooftops in Mozambique.

Ministers from several southern African nations planned a crisis meeting in Pretoria on Friday on the disaster, which has prompted stinging criticism of the world's slow response.

Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano called for more help.

"I believe that what was given to us was given with all heart from people who are trying to help. But it is true that this help came slowly in small quantities," Chissano said in a television interview..

"I'm happy that this help came, but I would say it has not been enough."

In Chilaulele, a village close to Xai-Xai north of the capital Maputo, a crowd surged towards reporters dropped on a small patch of high ground to demand food or rescue.

"You are the first people to come here since the floods came," said Antonio Tamele, adding: "We need food. We need blankets. We need medicine."

Virginia Locha pointed to her breasts and said through an interpreter: "Look, they are dry. I have no food for my baby."

Tamele said the village had been reduced to four sodden islands and demanded to know when help would arrive.
Nearby, six women balanced on a largely submerged tractor and waved for help until a military helicopter called by radio came to rescue them.

South African copters had struggled

Helicopters chartered from South Africa and paid for with donor funds worked from dawn to dusk in southern Mozambique on Thursday while British and U.S. transports carrying helicopters and hundreds of boats were due to arrive within days.

Germany's defence ministry said it was sending four helicopters and Spain said it would send five.

Five South African helicopters, helped since Tuesday by two more, have borne the brunt of the desperate airlift so far, saving more than 9,500 people from the rising waters.

"The catastrophe was much bigger than anyone anticipated. We are doing everything possible to help," said EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Assistance Poul Nielson, who arrived in Maputo on Thursday.

Mozambique's Foreign Minister, Leonardo Simao, warned that the flooding was likely to get worse before it got better with the many of the country's 15 rivers still receiving waters from neighbouring South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.

"Some rivers like the Limpopo still have big waves coming," he told Reuters in an interview.

The pace of the rescue was spurred by a report that a new cyclone, Gloria, was hovering in the Indian Ocean and could bring more torrential rains to Mozambique next week, although South African forecasters said the cyclone would weaken.

"If that storm comes it will be a total catastrophe for this country," said U.N. World Food Programme spokeswoman Michelle Quintaglie.

Cyclone Eline battered Mozambique last week, fuelling the disaster after weeks of heavy rainfall across southern Africa.

10,000 may still be stranded

Though no hard figures are available, aid workers estimate that up to 10,000 people could still be clinging to life in trees and on rooftops, where many have survived since Sunday, although survivors said many had drowned during the long wait.

Dead cattle and goats floated in the swirling muddy waters.

Nielson said the EU would provide 25 million euros ($24 million) to reconstruct roads and bridges in addition to 80 million euros ($78 million) of direct aid already announced.

Floods that began four weeks ago are known to have killed 350 people in Mozambique, South African, Botswana and Zimbabwe, though aid workers believe the real toll is in the thousands.

The United States said on Wednesday it would send 900 soldiers, six heavy lift helicopters and small boats for search and rescue operations as well as six C-130 cargo planes.

Britain said it was sending four helicopters and 100 motor boats and rafts to assist relief operations.

"This is the best possible news we have been waiting for. This is what the operation has been lacking all along," Quintaglie said.

Officials estimated it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Mozambique and urged Western donors to write-off Maputo's $8.3 billion external debt, to which it pays up to $1.4 million a week.

Until the floods, Mozambique was one of Africa's star economics pupils, introducing investor-friendly reforms that led to double-digit growth in the last few years after a ruinous 16-year old civil war ended in 1992.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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