Latest update on flood alert in southern Africa

Report
from Christian Aid
Published on 28 Feb 2000
General Situation
Floods in southern Africa continue to wreck havoc, with severe weather conditions now affecting Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Mozambique remains the most acutely affected country.The weather is unlikely to improve during the next few days as the rainy season in southern Africa is still underway.

Over the weekend of 25-26 February the Save river in central Mozambique rose dramatically, leaving many men, women and children stranded on patches of ground only marginally higher than the floodwaters. People have taken refuge in treetops and on tops of houses that have not been washed away. Shortly after the level of the Save river rose, the Limpopo river in southern Mozambique also rose, submerging parts of the town of Chokwe.

Flood survivors, particulary children and the elderly, are now at risk from water-borne diseases such as cholera, malaria and diarrhoea. Much of the emergency support in the region, particularly in Mozambique, will continue until the floods subside and contact can be made with communities that have been cut-off since the onset of the floods.

Mozambique

'It is terrible. We are desperate for help. These floods are the worst that we have ever had. Even the old people cannot remember worse. We are very worried about disease. We need commitment for longer-term rehabilitation.' said Joao Muthombene, Director of the Rural Association for Mutual Support (ORAM), a Christian Aid-funded organisation.

ORAM, at the request of the government of Mozambique, is seeking to distribute emergency kits to 6,000 families in Chibuto and a further 6,000 families in Chokwe. The kits include: maize, salt, soap, medicines, blankets and tents to provide temporary shelter.

Another organisation Christian Aid works in Mozambique, the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM), is working with church volunteers to distribute emergency packages to more than 31,000 people. Many live in cities such as Maputo in shantytowns that have been severely affected by the floods. The emergency packages distributed to affected families in these areas include 2kg of rice, 1kg of sugar, half litre of cooking oil, 250g of salt, two loaves of bread, two boxes of matches, six candles and where possible some beans or green vegetables. Although these emergency packages are a lifeline they will only last for a few days.

In Gaza province, an area where Christian Aid has supported a cattle-restocking programme with ORAM, over 30 per cent of the cattle have drowned. Throughout Mozambique as a whole it is estimated that over 70,000 hectares of land have been destroyed.

Mary Convill, Senior Field Officer for Christian Aid described the situation from the capital Maputo:

'It is thought as many as 300,000 people have had their homes and farmland totally destroyed. We are talking 100 per cent destruction of their livelihoods and belongings. And up to one million people have been affected in some way. I have seen people fishing where they used to farm. The people are poor. Many are subsistence farmers - up to 80 per cent of those in rural areas are living in absolute poverty. They have no food and the harvest, which was due soon, is ruined. Not only that, the harvest provides seeds for the next planting season and they have been destroyed as well.

'Landmines', she said, 'are also a threat'. Mozambique was in the grip of civil war for 16 years - until 1992. Landmines were sown indiscriminately and to this day there are thought to be about ½ million buried in the land. The floods are thought to have dislodged mines around Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane. 'We won't know until the waters have receded but there is every chance that people could find landmines buried by silt and stones in their backyards.'

The four provinces most severely affected by the floodwaters remain Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala and Maputo province. In Gaza province the World Food Programme estimates that 75,000 people need to be evacuated to safer areas. In Inhambane province the figure is approximately 15,000, and in Sofala province an estimated 50,000 people need evacuation to dry ground.

South Africa

There have been heavy rains in South Africa, and the country is now feeling the effects of cyclone Leon-Eline. Extensive flooding in the north-east, particularly in the Northern and Mpumalanga provinces, have displaced thousands of people. The South African government estimates that the floods have made more than 80,000 people homeless in the Northern province alone.

The biggest problem for many people is the lack of shelter against the powerful winds and heavy rains. Many of the mud houses in rural areas have collapsed and tents are in short supply. Those who have lost their homes have taken refuge in churches and schools.

Christian Aid's long-standing partner in South Africa, the South Africa Council of Churches (SACC), will be providing emergency relief among affected communities.

Zimbabwe

After two weeks of torrential rains and flooding brought on by cyclone Leon-Eline, the government of Zimbabwe has declared a state of emergency. Rivers in eastern and south-eastern Zimbabwe, on the borders with Mozambique and South Africa, have burst their banks. Zimbabwean authorities, in an effort to save dams from destruction, have been forced to open flood gates, submerging village communities downstream.

Ed Watkiss, Christian Aid Field Officer in Harare reports that the government of Zimbabwe has declared three provinces, Manicaland, Masvingo and Matabeleland South as disaster areas. 250,000 people are thought to have been affected, and 15,000 to 20,000 people made homeless so far. Floodwaters have swept away roads, bridges, dams and power lines. Christian Aid currently funds partner organisations in all three of these provinces and awaits news of how badly different communities have been affected.

In the capital Harare people are queing for as much as a day to collect as little as a quarter of a tank of fuel. The main bridge linking Zimbabwe with South Africa is currently closed. The BBC report hundreds of trucks left idle on both sides of the border, damaging trade between the two countries.

Debt

Christian Aid is calling for the immediate cancellation of all of Mozambique's debt payments to western governments and institutions.

The British government initially offered $1.2m (£765,000) in aid to Mozambique - less than the $1.4m a week Mozambique pays in debt repayments to western governments and financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Department for International Development (DFID) announced today that it will give an additional £500,000 in aid to Mozambique, bringing their current total to £2.2million.

Japan, which in July hosts the next G8 leaders' summit (where Third World debt will be discussed), has offered $100,000-worth of tents, blankets and plastic sheets. At the same time, Japan takes $5m a year from Mozambique in debt repayments (Mozambique owes Japan $56m). Send a virtual postcard to the Japanese government now, asking them to take debt seriously at the G8 Summit.

Future rehabilitation and reconstruction

Christian Aid has worked with partner organisations in southern Africa for many years. In Mozambique in particular, it has worked with the Christian Council of Churches since 1977. Christian Aid is currently supporting those partner organisations that can assist communities devastated by the floods during the initial emergency phase. However, Christian Aid is committed to supporting the rehabilitation and reconstruction of these communities once the floodwaters have subsided. Seeds, tools and materials for houses will be priority items to help people return to their homes and begin to rebuild communities again.