Disease, malnutrition threaten Mozambique

By Luke Baker

MAPUTO, March 15 (Reuters) - Southern African leaders have urged Western donors to cancel Mozambique's foreign debt to help the recovery from mass flooding, but aid workers say disease and malnutrition are more immediate threats.

Nine presidents and prime ministers, meeting in an emergency summit on Tuesday, said the international community needed to write off Mozambique's $8 billion obligations "to enable it to channel all available resources to the reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure".

That sort of assistance may be necessary but aid workers say there are more immediate concerns, with the spread of disease, particularly malaria and cholera, probable if the relief effort is not carefully coordinated and supported.

Aid workers told Reuters that there is acute malnutrition among some young children and say that if seeds are not planted quickly, a food crisis will hit the country.

"We're seeing acute malnutrition in babies and we're very concerned. Lack of food and access to clean water weakens their immune system," said Ian MacLeod, emergency coordinator for the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF).

If seeds for maize and other crops are not planted in the next few weeks, peasant farmers will not be able to reap this year's harvest, prolonging the food shortage and aggravating the possibility of malnourishment.

In the washed-out town of Chokwe, about 190 km (120 miles) north of Maputo, residents complained on Tuesday of food shortages nearly a month after the rains first hit.

Returning from their displacement camps, many brought with them rotting maize fished out of the fetid water.

"The grain stores have piles of rotting maize. The maize is covered with fungus and is not fit for human consumption," said Lindsey Davies, a spokeswoman with the World Food Programme.


France proposed on Tuesday that sovereign debt claims on Mozambique be postponed and said it was ready to cancel the $470 million it is owed as soon as other countries agreed to an overall debt relief plan.

Botswana President Festus Mogae, attending the emergency summit of the Southern African Development Community, said debt write-off was a pre-requisite to a successful recovery from the flooding, and said the impact of the disaster highlighted the vulnerability of Southern African economies.

"This disaster shows that the fragility and vulnerability of our economies is real and not just fabricated as a means of getting aid," he said.

More than 40 planes and helicopters were scheduled to take to the skies once again on Wednesday carrying food, medicine and supplies to more than 300,000 people sheltering in nearly 100 displacement camps throughout the southern Limpopo River valley.

Nearly 2,500 tonnes of food has been delivered in the past three weeks, according to the World Food Programme. The United States said it alone would deliver 100 tonnes on Wednesday, with Britain, Germany, South Africa and other aid nations likely to match that figure.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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