Mozambique: South African planes to stay longer

JOHANNESBURG, 1 March (IRIN) - The current scale of South Africa's relief operations in flood-wracked Mozambique was likely to be maintained at least until the weekend, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said in Maputo.
After a helicopter tour of the worst-hit areas on Tuesday, Lekota said he would recommend to his government that the seven helicopters, five fixed-wing planes and 82 soldiers currently deployed in Mozambique should stay. The situation could then be reviewed on Sunday or Monday, he said.

South Africa was the first country to send helicopters to Mozambique to help with rescue operations in the wake of the floods that started three weeks ago. The UN's World Food Programme has raised US $1.75 million of the US $2.5 million needed to keep the South African aircraft flying for another two weeks.

Lekota, who toured the submerged Chokwe, Chibutu and Xai-Xai areas of Mozambique, said: "It is the kind of tragedy I have never seen in my life. I hope I won't live to see it again." He added that South Africa was duty-bound to assist Mozambique, as the country helped South Africa during its struggle against apartheid.

Lekota lauded members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) for their untiring effort in the past weeks, saying some pilots had been flying up to eight hours a day. A WFP official told IRIN on Wednesday: "These guys are incredible. They've gone beyond the call of duty and they've really done an excellent job." A SANDF spokesman said South African crews managed to rescue 870 people on Tuesday.

A defence specialist told IRIN that South Africa's Oryx helicopters deployed in Mozambique can carry more than 20 people "at a stretch". He said the Oryx, manufactured by the South African state-owned company Denel, were well suited to conditions in the country. However, although there should be little difficulty with spare parts to keep the helicopters in the air, he said that a shortage of pilots would mean the air force "is going to be stretched in a couple of weeks time".

Meanwhile, the British government has provided three Puma helicopters and a Sea King for the humanitarian effort. Rescue experts equipped with 77 inflatable boats are also due to arrive, and the Dutch government has sent six boats to Gaza Province. Two US transport planes arrived in Maputo with supplies on Wednesday, and an aid flight is promised by the Italian government on Thursday. WFP has diverted a Buffalo aircraft from its Sudan operations, and a French transport plane is due back in Mozambique with fresh supplies.

* Following numerous offers of help received by the IRIN-SA office for the Mozambican disaster, the following contact details are provided for the OCHA Disaster Management Team in Mozambique:

Ian Howard
Air Cell Coordinator
Tel: +258 82 314 403 258


IRIN-SA - Tel: +27-11 880 4633
Fax: +27-11 880 1421

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