February 29, 2000 -- In a race against
time, relief workers are trying to save thousands of stranded flood victims
in Mozambique. After three weeks of cyclones, tropical storms, and flood
waves measuring up to 16 feet, Mozambique is experiencing its worst natural
disaster in a century.
From February 4-7, Maputo Province, located on the southeastern coast of Mozambique received almost 18 inches of rain during the first cyclone, Connie. On the heels of Connie came Cyclone Eline, followed by a severe tropical storm this past weekend. Weather forecasters are now warning that flood waves will descend upon Mozambique from the neighboring countries of Botswana and Zimbabwe.
In the cities of Maputo and Matola, home to 1,400,000 people, residents have no access to clean water, sanitation, or electricity. Approximately 800,000 people are affected -- at least 60,000 of whom are children. Three hundred thousand people are in urgent need of food. Although there has not been an official updated death toll in over a week, current estimates stand at over 650,000 homeless, with 350 dead, throughout southern Africa.
As one of the first humanitarian organizations to assess and react to the floods in Mozambique, UNICEF began working to facilitate relief and rehabilitation efforts with other United Nations agencies and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
"Our chief concern right now is the threat of disease," said UNICEF Representative Mark Stirling in Maputo. "There is a serious sanitation problem, which is increasing the risk of cholera outbreaks. In addition, a number of cases of diarrhea and malaria have already been reported."
UNICEF is working to prevent outbreaks of diarrhea, cholera, and malaria; providing clean water; supporting emergency school measures to ensure that children's access to education is not interrupted; and assisting in the resettlement of families displaced by the floods.
On February 16, UNICEF delivered a 39 ton shipment of essential medicines, including 500,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts (which prevents and treats diarrheal dehydration) and medical supplies to Maputo. The following day, another 1,102 pounds of urgently needed medical supplies were sent by helicopter to the isolated town of Chokwe in Gaza Province. High-energy biscuits were also sent to this area to feed the large number of malnourished children who were without food during the previous week.
A country all too familiar with tragedy, Mozambique has only known peace since 1992, when an accord was signed that ended 16 years of civil war. Since 1975, UNICEF has been working to ensure that the children of Mozambique receive education and essential primary health care including immunizations and medicines, nutrition, clean water and sanitation. UNICEF's work since 1992 has been focused on rebuilding the country's social services systems, as well as ensuring that children's rights are protected.
The current series of natural disasters will certainly slow down the progress being made in Mozambique. "It is a severe blow to Mozambique," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy told Reuters. "The impact is both immediate and will be long-standing. I don't think you can estimate how long it is going to take them to recover."