Early floods jeopardize Southern Africa

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 07 Jan 2008
(Johannesburg/New York: 7 January 2008): Floods are endangering the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in southern Africa, following unusually early torrential rainfall in the Zambezi river basin. So far, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia have been the hardest hit. While localised flooding is common in southern Africa, the rains have come earlier than usual. In Mozambique, some major rivers have already reached emergency thresholds not usually seen until mid-February, leading to the evacuation of 13,000 people, while affecting another 43,000, according to the Mozambique disaster management agency (INGC). On 3 January 2008, authorities declared the highest-level alert due to the flooding in several areas of the country. Search and rescue operations are ongoing, and the Government is planning an emergency response with support from the United Nations (UN), the Red Cross Movement and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

"Governments and international humanitarian organizations are scaling up their efforts to ensure a swift response and save lives," said John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. "But many of those affected are still struggling to recover from last year's floods and cyclones. For this reason and in view of the long rainy season ahead, humanitarian needs in the region are likely to increase over the coming weeks. We must continue to support Governments responding to the increasing impact of these natural disasters."

Zimbabwean civil protection officials and their UN, Red Cross and NGO partners responded in late December to floods affecting about 3,000 people in the northern parts of the country as well as more than 5,000 people along the country's south-eastern border with Mozambique, many of whom have returned home. While the situation is currently stable, the government is maintaining a close watch on flood prone areas.

In Zambia, the government estimates that several hundred people may have been affected by floods in the southern districts. They are presently assessing the level of damage. The government has also launched a multimillion dollar contingency plan to deal with the effects of floods. Already, 34 of 72 districts have been put on red alert for floods.

"We are greatly concerned at the emergency responses this early in the rainy season," said Kelly David, Head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Southern Africa. "If this continues, we can expect a substantial impact."

For media enquiries, please contact: Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile, +41 79 473 4570; Michelle Thulkanam, OCHASouthern Africa. +27 11 517 1635, mobile + 27 82 908 1437.

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