Mozambique Airlift Resumes; President Appeals

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 29 Feb 2000
By Emelia Sithole

MAPUTO, Mozambique (Reuters) - Exhausted helicopter crews resumed their airlift of Mozambicans trapped by rising floodwaters Tuesday, and President Joaquim Chissano appealed to the outside world for more help.

''Rescue operations are continuing. Thank God two more helicopters and two more planes are coming today (Tuesday) to assist in the operations,'' said Nicholas Lamade, an official with the United Nations World Food Program.

The aircraft are being supplied by the South African Air Force, which has rescued more than 4,000 people from rooftops, trees and telephone poles since floodwaters that have swept the area in the past three weeks suddenly surged higher Sunday.

Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano flew over the flooded areas early Tuesday and told reporters his country needed more help from the outside world.

''We have a shortage of means. We don't have enough,'' he said in English. ''I don't have to blame the world. They are doing something, but we need more,'' he said.

U.N. World Food Program spokeswoman Michelle Quintaglie said the death toll was currently estimated at around 150, but had not been updated for days and was probably much higher.

''There is no doubt that the death toll could rise dramatically...'' Quintaglie told Reuters.

Lamade said one of the additional helicopters would be used to ferry supplies, including food and medicine to fight rampant malaria, to camps set up for 400,000 people believed to have lost their homes in the past month of floods and cyclones.

''One of the chopppers will be used to ferry supplies to the camps where the situation is getting desperate,'' Lamade said.

Renewed Flood Warnings

Mozambique's water authority has warned people living in the Xai-Xai district north-east of the capital Maputo to move to higher ground as the wave of water which inundated the Chokwe district at the weekend moved toward the coast.

The authority also warned that a fresh flood wave from Botswana and Zimbabwe would hit the already ravaged central and southern regions of Mozambique in the next few days.

At least 350 people have died, more than 650,000 have been made homeless and crops vital for surviving the coming winter have been swept away in Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana in three weeks of flooding.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku has appealed to the organization's leaders to help the rescue operation, while Britain said it had pledged a total of 2.2 million pounds ($3.5 million) so far to help overall emergency operations.

The United States has said it is sending planes loaded with supplies, the first of which should arrive Wednesday, and Britain called on its European Union partners to write off the debt of the impoverished nation.

Quintaglie said rescue teams were having to make tough choices about who to save because of the lack of resources. ''It's heartbreaking,'' she told the BBC. ''We are leaving behind people we know will not be there tomorrow''

Five South African helicopters rescued 2,100 people from the Chokwe district Monday after rescuing 2,120 people Sunday.

A Mozambique national radio broadcast appealed for private boat owners to help ferry people from shrinking islands, roofs, trees, power and telephone poles to high ground.

The British charity Oxfam said it was trying to get five rubber boats into the country to help the rescue effort, but so far the only vessels seen at work were local wooden ferries.

''Many people have been taking refuge on top of buildings or in trees and have reportedly been there for a number of days now. The health situation of these people is extremely serious,'' the country's disaster institute said in a statement.

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