Dateline ACT Mozambique 8/00: Re-establishing a safe water supply

By Elaine Eliah
Mozambique, March 10, 2000

From the very limits of telecommunication, Andreas Koestler phones in his order. Mozambican telephone landlines are down beyond this point and the nation's mobile network has not yetn reached any farther. Sitting midmorning at a roadside café, shopping list before him, Andreas phones the office in Norway, just as people begin to arrive for work. He learns about a new government at home. His colleagues learn about the up to the minute needs of the people in Mozambique, particularly the thousands living in Chokwe region, some 200 kilometers from capital Maputo.

"If we bring in one pump and one generator*.."

Andreas' words drift off mid-sentence, but he's hardly shifted into pause mode. His mind is already on the next topic. He's been sent to assess just how badly hit Mozambique's water and sanitation systems were, and to assess where best to apply Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) funding, not only to mitigate suffering, but to help improve overall water systems to maintain health.

He's just learned from Tulio de Almeida, Chokwe's Chief Water Engineer that the city's water had been supplied by several boreholes. Tulio a graduate Maputo's Industrial Institute has worked in Chokwe for eight years. He explains that his technicians are not lacking in expertise, only in money. One look around reveals little in the way of equipment and tools.

According to Tulio, all Chokwe's pumps had been operating before flooding hit but all the motors, mounted above ground were completely submerged for days. Although the company that built the motors stocks parts for ten years, these are sixteen years old. One suggestion is to bring in submersible pumps for a more flexible solution but its difficult to tell. They can't even try out the old motors until they have electricity. Unfortunately, with so many power lines damaged throughout the country, no one knows how soon the electricity company will restore power up this particular river valley. Only at that time will Tulio and his crew be able to assess the damage to their electrical switchboards.

"We've seen the situation changing so rapidly," explained David Banks, another consulting engineer sent by ACT-NCA, "its impossible to plan five days ahead."

Yet a decision had to be made. Despite a less than perfect picture of the ground situation, (which with situations changing this quickly may never be feasible), a tight shipping deadline required the engineers to consider ordering water equipment. It was the last day they could order from Oslo in time to get it trucked to Amsterdam for flight out Monday or Tuesday.

Andreas and David ordered approximately US $100,000 worth of the most versatile water system components they could choose among the equipment pre-stored in Norway. If Chokwe improves before the equipment arrives, there is no shortage of places still lacking water and sanitation upgrade.

Over the past weekend, the engineers toured an area in central Mozambique that was not only hit with flooding but was also the site where cyclone Eline made landfall a couple weeks back. They found the banks of the Buzi River far steeper than those beside the Limpopo. Most homes where built high enough to have missed the rising waters which may have reached six meters above normal river level. Even those at lower levels have already rebuilt, and already replanted sorghum among their rotting maize. Little seems to be needed in the way of water and sanitation either.

People in the areas preferred the taste of river water over the brackish water available from local boreholes.

As Andreas packed to leave, his final recommendations were that ACT-LWF concentrate in the Gaza area for water and sanitation needs. He and his colleague also suggested that external contractors be used to develop Congolote, the planned community within the greater urban Maputo. This area will shortly settle 1500 families displaced by Maputo flooding and needs additional boreholes and latrines. Gaza Province is the number one on the priority list here. Not just Chokwe, but farther up river to Mabalane and across the river to Guija, where LWF projects were already working when flooding hit.

Elaine Eliah is a press officer currently working for ACT-.LWF in Mozambique (mobile phone: + 27 82 85 89 106).

For further information you can also contact:

Nils Carstensen (mobile + 41 79 358 3171).
ACT Web Site address:

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.