Mozambique floods: gain and loss on the Licungo river

By Maurice Geary, Logistics Advisor, Concern Worldwide

When the rains came in Zambezia Province in central Mozambique, people collected their belongings and left their traditionally built homes behind to head for higher ground. They resettled in scattered pockets, often under very basic shelters constructed from palm leaves held up by stick frames.

As a logistics advisor for Concern Worldwide, I am sent in following natural disasters, conflicts, and other emergencies to help the local teams reach the most affected, find out what they need, and get it to them as quickly as possible. The Mozambique floods were different than many of the other emergencies I have responded to in that the majority of the people who were affected did not congregate in a few areas, like organized camps. Instead, they sprinkled themselves on whatever dry ground they could find as the Licungo River slowly swelled and swallowed the land around it.

It is hard to imagine, but for most of these families, this is not the first time they have relocated because of floods. In 2000 and 2001, approximately a quarter of Mozambique’s population was affected by flooding, with subsequent floods occurring in 2007 and 2008.

They accept the risk of possibly having their homes washed away or destroyed because the land around the Licungo River is unbelievably fertile. Just about anything grows here, its lush landscape bursting from the seams with cashews, pineapples, bananas, oranges, and rice paddies. Removing people from the flood plain itself would mean stripping them of their livelihoods, and for this reason, many people chose to stay as close as they could to their homes, rather than moving permanently to higher areas that could be long distances from where their farmland is.

Following the floods that hit Mozambique in 2007 and 2008, Concern partnered with Save the Children and CARE International to prepare for—and respond jointly too—natural disasters in Mozambique. This year, 150,000 people were displaced due to floodwaters, while more than 300,000 were affected by damaged homes or livelihoods. When floods struck again this year, Save the Children and CARE met humanitarian needs in Gaza, in the country’s south, while Concern led the emergency response further north in Zambezia Province, where we drove for hours and traveled by boat to find those most in-need of assistance.

In our search, we uncovered thousands of people living under makeshift shelters, with little access to basic sanitation, hygiene, or safe drinking water. Once we understood their needs, we quickly returned with supplies like tarps, jerry cans, soap, and chlorine solution to purify water.

On the day or a distribution, I would get to the office as early as 5:30 am to make sure the trucks were loaded and ready to go to the site, which were often two or three hours away. Once we arrived at the site, my job was to support the local team as best I could in organizing the distribution itself, from setting up the supplies and registration area to talking to the community leaders so that they could share the day’s plans with the community itself. We ran an average of two distributions each week to various communities throughout Zambezia Province.

Thankfully, the rains in the second half of the rainy season were not as bad as was feared and the waters receded quickly, allowing people to return to their villages and their livelihoods. We then re-focused our efforts to better understand what people needed to rebuild and start afresh. Traveling village to village, Concern found families whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the floods. Most had lost seeds for the next harvest, and what dry-food stores they had.

In Zambezia Province, there are two planting seasons, one of which begins in April or May. With no time to lose to make sure communities do not miss out on the next harvest, Concern is organizing seed fairs, which bring together seed suppliers and other agriculture vendors at a specific date and place. We are providing affected farmers with coupon books that allow them to purchase the kinds of seeds and tools that they need from the vendors—a drastic shift from the more traditional model that blankets affected families with the same supplies, rather than allowing them to choose what they want and need. We hope to reach 6,000 families (30,000 people) with our seed fairs, an investment that will help them recover and rebuild what was lost in the floods and will bring their next harvest to life.