Dateline ACT Southern Africa 14/00: Chiaquelane: From Bad to Worse

News and Press Release
Originally published
Beginning in early February, torrential rains and flooding created a disaster in Mozambique. According to the government, more than 600 people were killed, and over 14,000 rescued by helicopters. Thousands were taken to safety by boat. Roughly two million people have been directly or indirectly affected by the flooding. More than 650,000 people are currently receiving temporary food assistance.
Action by Churches Together (ACT), the world-wide network of churches and church agencies responding to disasters, has been assisting the people of Mozambique since the beginning of the flooding. ACT's response is coordinated by the Mozambique office of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), an organization that has worked with victims of political conflict in the country since 1977. In responding to the flooding, LWF Mozambique is working closely with the Christian Council of Mozambique and the National Ecumenical Committee.

To date, more than 20 churches and church agencies from around the world have pledged or contributed more than $2.2 million to support this unified relief effort, which includes crisis food assistance, temporary shelter, water supply, air transportation of relief supplies, and the resettlement of families who've lost their homes. ACT has also assisted victims of flooding in neighboring South Africa, working through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa and the South Africa Council of Churches. ACT has issued an appeal for almost $800,000 to support relief work in South Africa.

Elaine Eliah has provided several on-the-ground reports about how the ACT-sponsored relief operation is going in Mozambique. This is her final report.

-ACT Communications

Chiaquelane, Mozambique - March 28, 2000

By Elaine Eliah

The saga continues in Mozambique's Gaza Province. Ten days ago the number of people displaced by recent flooding was declining steadily. Then heavy rainfall in neighboring countries forced a choice between releasing water from an upstream dam or risking a rupture of the dam. Neither option sounded promising to people living in the Limpopo Valley. Most of those who had left the high-ground safety of the Chiaquelane accommodation center fled again to the security of its plastic tarp village. Many of those who had managed to stay at their property in Chokwe, even when a rooftop offered their only protection from up to three meters of rising water, took seriously the March 21 evacuation suggestion.

Within a week, the number of people camping at Chiaquelane, about 30 kilometers from Chokwe, doubled from an estimated 40,000 to probably over 80,000. The camp that had once been concentrated in one grouping now stretches out at least three kilometers along the main road. On both sides are clustered plastic tarp shelters. Some are little more than a tarp-draped tree. Others show remarkable engineering talent as families joined their single 4m x 10m sheets together to erect even more comfortable accommodation. A few of the luckiest first-comers arrived when aid agencies still had canvas tents available.

Recent arrivals had the luxury to be fleeing with their possessions rather than fleeing from a rapidly approaching wall of water. They could even choose to make the walk in daylight. Yet after a month of uncertainty here in Gaza, this new exodus left a stressful mark as indelibly as the high water lines on their Chokwe homes and schools. Those high waters claimed nearly everything in the local office of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

When this second warning hit, LWF moved its warehouse out of Chokwe center and chose a new storage facility closer to the displaced population. Almost immediately, attention and efforts shifted from most non-emergency services to rapid response relief for thousands of people. Truckloads of plastic, much of this from among the three cargo planes sent by DanChurchAid, left LWF's Maputo warehouse for Gaza. Most of this has already been utilized in homebuilding. Most of the blankets, clothing, and food has already been distributed to desperate families.

In addition to donations received directly from ACT partners, LWF-Maputo has also been actively distributing three 40-foot containers of goods shipped to Mozambique before the emergency began by Lutheran World Relief in the U.S. These containers included clothing, blankets and quilts, fabric and sewing kits, school kits (note pads, pens, pencils, scissors, and crayons), hygiene kits (toothbrushes, soap, towels), and newborn kits (diapers and pins, shirts, gowns, and cream).

On Thursday, 21 March, in the heat of the new migration, an incident took place in which one relief agency arrived without prior notification and began making unauthorized distribution of food items to the people beside the road. Chaos resulted in a desperate struggle that left five people dead and several injured.

Four LWF teams currently working in Chiaquelane camp have reported no difficulties. People are being settled orderly in camp areas that correspond to their village or bairo groupings and recently, LWF was assigned care of one of these new-arrival centers. Workers have already registered and are catering for 526 families from Maxicoluene, Conhone, and Guija. They have also been directing their attention to augmenting the camp's water supply.

One of the water engineers and much of the equipment received through Norwegian Church Aid have been diverted to help expand Oxfam's water/sanitation system to accommodate the new arrivals. Chiaquelane camp is now strung out along the road, forcing the community to walk a considerable distance and then wait in long lines for water. From the Norwegian water/sanitation shipment, LWF loaned to Oxfam two 20,000 liter pillow tanks and one 10,000 liter pillow tank for positioning new standpoints along the road.

Crews began working with a hand drill on another borehole, but still the delivery trucks cannot keep the camp's pillow tanks full. A drilling rig contracted by LWF to provide additional boreholes for a proposed resettlement area in Maputo was recently relocated to the camp to help out with the water shortage facing the growing population. It expects to drill two or three new holes at Chiaquelane to minimize the distance trucks must drive to refill tanks. The rig will be on site 28 March and expects to complete one borehole per day.

It's unclear how long people will be staying in Chiaquelane settlement area. On one hand people want desperately to return home and to have their lives return to normal. It's clear, judging by how some people obeyed the evacuation order, that considerable fear remains. There were some people, however, who one couldn't really say left Chokwe by choice. The government says it remains especially uneasy about the possibility of further flooding. They put teeth in their evacuation order when they directed the municipal water company to shut off piped water it had already restored to the town and ordered relief groups to discontinue food distributions.

At this point in time Mozambicans are facing one of nature's deadlines, as cruel as it is final. Will the waters recede in time to plant the new season's crops of beans and maize? The debate continues over whether to give farmers seeds while they are still in the camps. This would encourage many to return home but might put them in future danger. If relief workers wait to distribute seeds when residents make their way home, will they still have time to plant?

Government officials estimate another two weeks before they'll have the city cleaned up and ready for habitation. Chiaquelane residents polled by Oxfam said they were thinking of returning home in three or four weeks. Most agriculture experts agree that would be too late to ensure a crop in July or August.

A personal note: It's still raining here in Mozambique, and may be for another couple weeks, which makes it hardly the time for camping out. A colleague described rather fondly the last time he had to camp out in the rain. "Last summer holiday we camped in the Scilly Isles and there was a lot of rain," he said. Then he smiled and added, "But there was a fabulous pub." Me? If memory serves me right, I was camping in Mgahinga National Park, one of Uganda's two rainforest parks where visitors can trek to see mountain gorillas. At the first sign of sprinkles, I didn't waste any time abandoning my leaky tent for one of the park's thatched-roof cottages.

Elaine Eliah is a press officer currently working for ACT/LWF in Mozambique.