Mozambique: Demand for more disaster assistance

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 2 March (IRIN) - Disaster assistance to Mozambique has been stepped up in the last few days amid recriminations over the allegedly tardy response of the international community to the scale of the flood emergency.
"If the governments of the world are going to help, the time is now - not tomorrow or the next day," UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy said on Wednesday. She said Mozambique faced a "massive humanitarian disaster", and yet more rains are forecast. "Rescuing the distressed, reaching out to the displaced, giving hope to the despondent are all within our power. It is our moral obligation."

But for countless numbers of Mozambicans stranded by the swirling floodwaters, help is already too late. Rescue workers have reported spotting increased numbers of floating corpses. The death toll officially stands at 200 from the worst natural disaster in living memory, but aid officials and the government say it is much higher. Between 800,000 to 1 million people have lost their homes and are in urgent need of assistance as a result of the three week old emergency.

International response

The United States said on Wednesday it would send 900 troops equipped with six MH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and small boats for the rescue mission. The contingent is expected to arrive "over the next several days". Washington has already committed US $12.8 million from USAID and defence department funds, President Bill Clinton said on Wednesday.

A defence department-funded aircraft landed in Maputo on Wednesday carrying plastic sheeting, water jugs and blankets from USAID stockpiles, and high-energy biscuits from the United Nations. USAID is also deploying a 25-person Disaster Assistance Response Team which is due in Maputo on Friday, the government agency said.

Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) has chartered two more 28-seater helicopters from Ukraine with full crew and support packages. DFID said in a statement on Wednesday that it was also deploying four Puma
helicopters with crew. They are due to arrive in the region on Friday. Some 100 motorboats and rafts are also on their way. By Wednesday, total UK funds to the emergency stood at US $9.28 million, DFID said.

Germany is reportedly to send at least four Bell 212 helicopters and relief supplies which are expected to arrive on Friday. Media reports said other European governments, including Italy and Spain, have been inquiring about the availability of Antonov AN-124 transport aircraft to move helicopters and supplies to Mozambique.

Denmark has earmarked the equivalent of 2.68 million euros in emergency aid for flood victims in Mozambique, AFP reported on Wednesday. Denmark would send its first plane with tents, medicine and other basic necessities to
Mozambique on Friday.

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) announced on Tuesday that it was making a US $500,000 contribution to the relief effort. "The OAU appreciates the assistance given so far by some African countries and the international community as a whole ... But more, indeed much more assistance is immediately required," a statement by Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim said.

Conditions on the ground

Flood waters and stranded communities remain the pressing concerns, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a report on Wednesday. In Chokwe, along the Save river in Mozambique's southern Gaza Province, MSF is currently the only
NGO active in the area. Over 25,000 people are still stranded on roofs of buildings and face the imminent threat of a dam further upstream bursting, MSF said. Evacuation is essential for their safety, but there is a shortage of rescue helicopters and boats. MSF is distributing food and water and providing on-the-spot medical assistance.

MSF is also the only aid organisation active in Macia, also in the south, where 30,000 people are displaced. A transit camp is home to 5,000 homeless people. The capital of Gaza, Xai-Xai, is in a less critical situation so long as flood waters do not climb, but MSF said the amount of food aid being delivered "is not considered sufficient to meet the need".

Water levels in the Incomati river in Maputo Province and the Save in Inhambane have fluctuated. But preliminary reports indicate that 60,000 people living along the Save have been affected, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday. In Sofala Province the situation in the Buzi basin is becoming "critical" as discharges from the Chicamaba dam along the Buzi river and heavy rainfall in Zimbabwe and Mozambique have increased the water level of the river.

In Manica, Sofala and Zambezia provinces, the Pungoe and Zambeze rivers show no signs of flooding, OCHA said. However, depending on the level of overflowing from Kariba dam in Zimbabwe, the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique would have to increase its discharging level, which would cause downstream flooding.


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