Mozambique

More rains hamper Mozambique relief effort

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Just as relief convoys began to make their way along roads that for weeks had been cut off by floodwaters, the rains returned to flood-ravaged Mozambique, presenting serious logistical problems for the international relief effort, aid workers said. A major road from Beira to Save, in a badly affected region, was closed because of the rain, delaying the distribution of supplies by truck. The road was unlikely to reopen for at least another week, the World Food Program (WFP) said.
Delivery of supplies on the ground is more economical and efficient than distributing them by air (trucks can carry three times as much as helicopters), but new flood damage to the key artery in central Mozambique has prevented the delivery by truck of emergency food aid.

"Major rains have caused two breaks on the main road between Beira and Save, a lifeline for trade and commerce," WFP spokesperson Abby Spring told Agence France-Presse.

Adding to the delivery difficulties, flood refugees are leaving the camps to return to what is left of their homes, forcing aid agencies to distribute supplies to camps as well as to scattered villages. Officials are encouraging flood victims to remain in the camps. "We understand that people want to go home. We know that life in the camps is not pleasant," said Foreign Minister Leonardo Simao. "But conditions for their return are simply not yet in place."

Standing floodwaters are slow to recede and clean drinking water is scarce, raising the specter of disease. Aid workers warn that the biggest threats to the poverty-stricken country are water-borne diseases such as cholera and malaria.

Wells and sanitation facilities are underwater and have sustained serious damage in many parts of the country, To combat the threat of disease, relief workers are distributing water purification tablets and equipment.

Infrastructure has also been wiped out. A total of 141 schools have been destroyed by the floods or are in need of major repair. Numerous hospitals and clinics have sustained major damage and are suffering power failures.

Another major threat to flood victims is malnutrition, particularly among children. Massive amounts of fertile farmland and crops have been destroyed in the provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane. Government authorities estimate that more than 247,000 planted acres have been destroyed. Affected crops include maize, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, peanuts and vegetables.

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.

There has also been a substantial loss of cattle. In Gaza alone, 30,000 head of cattle have died. Estimates indicate that 62,600 farming households have been devastated by the flooding.

"We are very concerned about the immediate threat of malnutrition," said Dr. Sergio Soro, speaking from the UNICEF office in Antananarivo. "If our assessments prove valid across the island, the loss of the rice crop could be devastating; it could mean serious malnutrition for hundreds of thousands of people.

Malnutrition will make people more vulnerable to illness, exacerbating serious health problems. And the loss of cash crops like bananas and coffee takes away people's livelihood at the same time. The floods here have created a spiral of disaster. It's just awful."

In the waterlogged 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 Program told Reuters.

When the rainy season ends in late March or early April, most of the flood victims are expected to leave the camps and return to their towns and villages. To help Mozambique kick-start its local economy and help residents resurrect their flood-ravaged communities, WFP plans to create a food for work program.

Residents who work to reconstruct schools and shops, rebuild bridges, railways and roads and, most importantly, plant new crops, will be paid with food for their families.

Acknowledging the huge reconstruction bill Mozambique faces, the Paris Club of Western creditors had announced Wednesday that the country would not have to make debt payments of tens of millions of dollars this year. But the announcement was met with some disappointment.

"We are satisfied that a positive step was taken for Mozambique's debt - but it falls short of our expectation," Foreign Minister Leonardo Simao said. "Our expectation was for the full cancelation of the debt."

The foreign minister said the government will continue to ask that its debts, which stand at about $1.3 billion, be written off.

Mozambique's economy had been crawling toward recovery after a ravaging civil war that ended in 1992, but the disaster is expected to halt the country's growth rate. The floods last month killed at least 492 people, left 330,000 homeless and caused an estimated $250 million in damage to roads, bridges, railways and buildings.

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The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross.

© Copyright 1999, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.