Dateline ACT Mozambique 7/00: Nightmares into Dreams...

News and Press Release
Originally published
Geneva, March 10, 2000
By Elaine Eliah

"If it's a straw house, I don't have a husband to help me with upkeep," worries Salma Augusto Mathe. "If this concrete could fall, what about straw?"

Salma stood in the midst of wreckage pointing to the green and blue concrete slabs lying at her feet. Those toppled remains were hardly identifiable as pieces of a house that might every have sheltered a family. Judging from the blank look that shot across Salma's face, those hunks of concrete she pointed at were not only significant pieces of her world, but the very foundation of life as she and her family knew it.

"They come here every morning," explained Eliseu da Silva Machava, Southern Mozambique Program Coordinator for the Ecumenical Committee for Social Development (CEDES), "just to look at their place."

In Trevo, once a vibrant residential community in Maputo, people still sweep the streets. Music blares from someone's radio as people cook and take their meals. Clothes hang on bushes and trees and dogs doze on a mattress left to dry in the sun. Two men play checkers with bottlecaps while nearby someone has her hair plaited. All this will stop at dusk when everyone returns to temporary shelters elsewhere.

Even after living in Trevo for nearly forty years, Salma wouldn't spend another night there even if she had a house to come home to. "Now even if there is any little rain I'm afraid ' after what I've seen." What Salma saw when she awoke at four a.m. was water already swirling around her bed. "I was quite asleep. I awoke to the house cracking. Water was already in. I watched clothing and articles washing away. My neighbor Manuel Tchauke knows how to swim. He pulled her and the children out one by one and helped the family reach safety.

Manuel was lucky. Water swirling around his straw home was only about knee deep. He had to wade into considerably deeper water to rescue his neighbors. Salma won't have to stay in Trevo any longer. She and her family have been offered a building plot in a newly planned community. This suburb of Maputo will be known as Congolote and will become the new home for 1500 families that lost their homes to flooding in the Mozambican capital last month.

"I want to be in a place where I will never see water again," Salma said. "I can go anywhere but I don't want to stay at the same level."

Congolote is certainly at higher altitude than the informal settlement area of Trevo was. The city of Maputo has already demarcated 15m x 30m plots for 3000 families and has drilled at least a couple boreholes for new residents. There are already about fifty families living there in tents the municipality provided and one of these tents has already been turned into an informal market.

Engineers Andreas Koestler and David Banks have visited Congolote to assess water and sanitation needs there. They were sent to Mozambique by Norwegian Church Aid to help upgrade sanitation to help prevent water-born disease and stem further suffering for this nation that has certainly had its fill. The porous, sandy soil, they explained will require shallow latrines that are frequently relocated to prevent depth from contaminating the area's high water table.

When relief agencies working in Maputo divided up the areas most in need of assistance, Lutheran World Federation adopted 500 homeless families from Trevo. Since the flood occurred, LWF has been distributing to them food and emergency non-food items. A nearby cement factory has become the temporary shelter for 84 of these families. Proprietor Armenio dos Santos Jorge has lived in Maputo since 1951 and his factory existed even before the Trevo homes were built.

"The rain was heavier than I ever saw it before," he recalls. "When I walked out of the house I saw many people with things on their head s running here screaming. Some people were walking with only their heads above water. A car completely disappeared in the water. Some of my workers here are now without houses."

Despite the flooding, despite rain still falling, Armenio drove out the next day to buy bread for the community. After that, he didn't leave the house for three days until the waters subsided. He's since delivered firewood to the people and helped them with transport when needed. He's even become an informal food distribution center for LWF, using his factory premises as temporary warehousing.

Many of these families are ready to be transported to their new home sites as soon as plot numbers are assigned. There is little in the way of available building materials in the Congolote area and many fear that they may have little to call home for some time. When they move, they'll take with them plastic sheeting and cooking kits, part of the shipments that arrived in three planeloads from DanChurchAid. They'll take with them the memories of heroes like Manuel and Armenio. Salma will even carry her fourteen chickens that escaped to the trees when the waters came.

Salma's daughter will also take her latest surprise, a baby girl born just one week after the nine-month pregnant woman had to flee her home in the middle of the night. The family chose the name 'Sheila' for the little girl - to remind them of 'Cheia,' the Portuguese for 'Flood.'

Elaine Eliah is the ACT Press Officer in the ACT-LWF Office in Maputo.

Contacts at LWF Office:
Phone: +258 1 49 11 85 or 49 16 10
Fax: +258 1 49 16 12
Personal e-mail:
Office e-mail: Remains to be confirmed but try addressing Elaine through the LWF Director Philip Wijmans at:

Thank you for your attention.

ACT is a worldwide network of churches and related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.

The ACT Coordinating Office is based with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Switzerland