Heavy rains beginning in early February resulted in widespread flooding in Mozambique, an impoverished country on Africa's southeastern coast that is nearly twice the size of California and home to about 19 million people. Then, on February 22, Cyclone Eline swept through the region, deluging Mozambique with its worst flooding on record and leaving tens of thousands of people stranded in trees and on rooftops and raised patches of land. An estimated 1 million people have been affected by the flooding with hundreds killed and thousands left homeless.
Most of the flood victims are in central and southern Mozambique. Specifically, the floods are concentrated north of the capital of Maputo, along the southern Limpopo River basin and the central Save River.
According to CARE USA President Peter D. Bell, who has likened the situation in Mozambique to the damage inflicted on Central America by Hurricane Mitch, the scope of the disaster is unprecedented in this African country and will take years to overcome. While the government and some 250 aid organizations are responding to the disaster in the Limpopo area in Gaza Province, CARE is focusing its efforts in the capital, Maputo, and in the district of Guvoro in the northern Inhambane Province, along the swollen Save River. CARE has already swung into action with immediate emergency relief, and is planning intermediate and longer-term interventions to help families get back on their feet and farms back into production as soon as possible. CARE's immediate relief efforts in Mozambique will require about $2.4 million in support.
Maputo Province, including Maputo City with a population of about 1 million people, was the first region affected by heavy rains and flooding although other provinces further north also suffered. Severe flooding in and around the city displaced many families and affected thousands and Cyclone Eline left a trail of damaged homes and crops in its wake.
"The flood waters gouged out huge gullies in some of the poorest areas of Maputo, the capital city," reports Marge Tsitouris, director of CARE's emergency group. "In Polana Canico, a long strip of densely-packed, low-income housing is now a gully 50 feet deep and some 800 feet long. All you can see are the tops of the houses in the ditch and all around there are large, uprooted trees and fallen electricity lines. Not only do these gullies threaten housing and other infrastructure - including schools and hospitals - but their lack of stability threatens people as well. Children are walking to school at the bottom of these gullies."
Further north, most of the homes and buildings in Nova Mambone, located at the mouth of the Save River on the southern bank, and surrounding areas in Govuro district (estimated population of about 27,000 people) were stripped of their roofs. The situation was compounded when, just days after the cyclone hit, dam gates in neighboring countries were released to relieve their own flood conditions, sending a 6-foot high tidal surge of water down the Save River. The force of the water broke the river's banks on reaching the lowland plains of Govuro district and caused widespread flooding as it met the resistance of the sea at its mouth. Within hours, floods spread out some 30 miles in all directions.
Nova Mambone was flooded to its rooftops. Families urgently took to roofs, trees and pockets of high ground to keep above the rising water.
"Right now we are in a very fast moving and reactive phase in terms of search and rescue," explains Rowland Roome (link to interview), country director for CARE in Mozambique. "Next we'll need to help settle these families who have lost just about everything. Their homes, crops and belongings have been destroyed and their drinking water has been contaminated. There needs to be a whole range of rehabilitation in Mozambique and it will require a long-term commitment."
CARE responded quickly to the disaster, immediately conducting an assessment of the damage and coordinating with the government and other aid agencies to provide assistance.