Mozambique

Mozambique floods Update: A long way to go

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Kate Horne, Oxfam GB country representative in Mozambique, reflects on the last few weeks and looks at the challenges the country faces as it begins the process of reconstruction
The first warning that something was terribly wrong came on February 6. It was a Sunday, and I was at home. I live in a 9th floor flat facing the ocean in Maputo. I was thinking about taking a new staff member out to show him a bit of the city. But it rained all day and got heavier and heavier. Eventually, the water started coming in through my closed windows. In the morning, the water in the car park came up to my knees. So we knew, even then, that there was damage in Maputo, but we still had no idea what was happening upcountry.

In the Oxfam office on Monday we started gathering information from the local municipal councils, the Mozambican Red Cross and other agencies in Maputo. By Wednesday, we knew that most of northern Maputo province and Gaza province were seriously affected and, after meeting with the other agencies, we decided to provide water and sanitation support in those areas. The great irony of a flood is that there's water all over the place, but none that can be healthily consumed.

The biggest camp, which became a temporary 'home' to 50,000 people, sprang up two weeks ago in Chiaquelane, after the second wave of water came down the Limpopo and flooded the nearby town of Chokwe. Chokwe was already providing refuge to many, as it was on relatively high ground. Then the town started disappearing. Some people ran for it, some swam for it and some were swept away and we don't know what happened to them.

The difficult thing is changing gear so rapidly, from development work to emergency work. I've been in Mozambique for three years, and we have programmes in the north, working with farmers to improve agricultural production and in basic education to improve access to and quality of primary education. I am pleased that we've managed to mobilise so quickly in response to the floods. We've got a good team of professionals who hit the ground running, and we've had some amazing donations from people in the UK and other countries.

I feel gutted about the fact that this country was becoming such an exciting, happening place and so much of it has now been destroyed. I love working here; of all the countries I've worked in, this has been the most positive environment. I've been impressed by the amount of support from the local community for the people in the flood areas. There's been an overwhelming response from people living in Maputo to a call for donations.

There's a long way to go: reconstruction will take years. It's going to take a good six to twelve months just looking at water and sanitation rehabilitation alone. We are now providing clean water to more than 50,000 people, and with more engineers now available we are able to go to other areas in the province where temporary water supplies are needed or repairs have to be made to their water system.

Agriculturally, there may be a brief chance now to plant pumpkin and sweet potato, but in fact people will be pretty much dependent on food aid until the next planting season at the end of the year. Oxfam is in the process of buying and distributing seeds and tools.

In the first couple of weeks we were distributing family supply kits and they have helped people enormously. Because of this we have decided to distribute another 5000 using the networks of local groups to get them to families who may have lost everything in the floods, from homes to cooking pots.

Just starting is a project offering funds to help rebuild schools and provide them with pens, paper and other resources. At this stage we are assessing which schools are in most need. With 600 primary schools and about 50 upper and secondary schools in southern Mozambique, it is quite an undertaking, but vitally important in helping people get back to normality.

The support from the British public, neighbouring countries, and in the end the international community, has been tremendous, and will go a long way to supporting Mozambique and its people to get back on their feet. But it still seems crazy that the Mozambique government is expected to pay back debts amounting to more than the whole DEC Appeal raised.