Merlin Update on Mozambique Emergency 08 Mar 2000

At a glance
Southern Africa has experienced its worst flooding for 50 years. Mozambique has been hardest hit, with many homes, roads and health facilities destroyed. One million Mozambicans are affected, with thousands made homeless and at risk from outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera and malaria.


In February, the heaviest rains in southern Africa for 50 years brought flooding to Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa, as rivers burst their banks across the region. The rains which raised river levels have been followed by Cyclone Eline which added to the widespread destruction. Mozambique is the most severely affected country. In central and southern Mozambique, the floodplains of the Limpopo and Save rivers cover hundreds of square miles.

The floods have washed away roads, railways and bridges, making access to the affected areas almost impossible, except by air and boat. As a result, the scale of the disaster is difficult to determine. Homes and power supplies have been damaged by floodwaters and telegraph poles have been uprooted by the force of the cyclone's 260 km an hour winds. An estimated one million people have been affected by the flooding. Some remain trapped by floodwaters while others are living in 64 temporary camps on high ground. Thousands of people are still homeless. However, thousands more are, where they can, returning to their damaged homes.

Threat from disease

Now people face a lack of shelter, blankets, food, clean water and sanitation. As well as physical health problems such as the effects of exposure, many are suffering from the trauma of separation from their relatives. People are at increased risk from infectious diseases, such as measles, where they are living crowded together with many other families.

However, the most serious immediate threat is from outbreaks of water-borne diarrhoeal diseases including cholera and dysentery. With no access to clean water, open defecation and poor waste control, outbreaks are likely. Infection could be transmitted to survivors through their only source of drinking water, the floodwater itself. The dehydration which accompanies diarrhoea is a particular concern for young children and elderly people, who are already especially vulnerable to disease. As floodwaters begin to recede, pools of water will be created, forming breeding grounds for the mosquitoes which transmit malaria and other insect-borne diseases. Over the last decade, Mozambique has rebuilt itself following a protracted civil war. Although it is still ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, it has made great social and economic progress, for example achieving self-sufficiency in its food supply. This natural disaster has set the population back dramatically. Many food and seed stocks have been lost and many farmers' herds of cattle have been drowned. The planting season in Mozambique runs from March to June and is likely to be missed by many communities. If so, people will be dependent on food aid for at least a year. Mozambique's President Chissano has declared a state of disaster and appealed for urgent international aid.

Merlin's response

The first phase of the Mozambican and international aid efforts focused on rescuing people from the floods. As part of the second stage, providing relief, Merlin has sent an experienced assessment team to Mozambique. The team will identify how best to support the Mozambican health services in flood affected areas as they cope with the increased demands on their staff and resources. The Merlin team will liaise with partner organisations so that resources are pooled and no work is duplicated. We expect initial activities to include providing basic treatment and essential drugs to the families staying in camps.

In the next phase, focus may turn to the prevention of infectious diseases. We will gather information about disease patterns so that we are ready to respond to potential outbreaks, to treat people who are sick and reduce the spread of disease. Beyond this, longer-term needs are likely to include the rebuilding and restocking of the health centres which will help get Mozambique's health service back on its feet.