Mozambique Urges Help for 1 Million Made Homeless

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Buchizya Mseteka

MAPUTO, Mozambique (Reuters) - Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano Wednesday urged the world to send more help for an estimated one million people displaced by devastating floods, and Britain and the United States promised extra helicopters.

Chissano spoke to reporters shortly after a giant C-17 aircraft from the United States landed with aid for one of the world's poorest countries, battling to relieve the suffering of citizens battered by three weeks of torrential rain and floods.

''The figure is difficult to quantify but we speak of one million people on the move at the moment,'' Chissano told reporters before flying off to inspect flood-ravaged areas.

Three weeks after the worst flooding in half a century drove tens of thousands of Mozambicans into trees and onto rooftops, more floods were expected and aid was only just beginning to trickle into the area.

''We say thank you for all the help we have received but we are asking for more. Our people have nothing and the world can do more,'' Chissano added.

World Food Program spokeswoman Brenda Berton said Britain had agreed to fly four large helicopters to Maputo to help the small fleet of five South African helicopters at work for the past three weeks.

She said the United States was sending a further two helicopters, effectively doubling the fleet that has rescued more than 8,000 people in four days.

U.S. Help Arrives

The U.S. aircraft landed in Maputo early Wednesday, bringing plastic sheets for 10,000 families, more than six thousand water jugs, blankets and high-energy biscuits.

''These materials will be distributed to the victims across Mozambique with the assistance of the U.N. World Food Program,'' U.S. embassy spokesman Steven Koenig told reporters.

The U.S. embassy said Washington was sending an additional seven-man team to coordinate further U.S. help to this impoverished southern African nation.

As the relief arrived, thousands of Mozambicans spent another night in trees and aid workers warned that too little aid was coming in to match the scale of the disaster.

Washington said Tuesday it would donate an extra $7 million worth of food to Mozambique and $3 million in other aid.

Mozambique's water authority has warned that fresh flooding from Botswana and Zimbabwe will hit the ravaged central and southern regions of Mozambique in the next few days.

The South African Air Force has rescued 8,000 people since the latest wave of floods swelled Sunday, but aid workers estimate that about 100,000 are still stranded.

At least 350 people have died across southern Africa in recent weeks in the worst flooding in living memory.

Aid Workers Fear Disease

Aid workers say they expect that number to rise sharply as disease spreads among thousands of displaced people.

''We are not giving any estimates of fatalities now,'' said Ian MacLeod, emergency coordinator for the U.N. Children's Fund.

''But based on what we are seeing on the ground, at the end of the crisis, the deaths are likely to run into the thousands because of the problem of sickness and disease due to a large number of populations concentrated together,'' he said.

Greg Hartl, spokesman of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, said that flooding and contamination of drinking water supplies increased the risk of outbreaks of disease.

''Cholera is a big concern. Malaria will become an increasing concern as flood waters recede and stagnate. Dysentery, obviously, is already a concern,'' Hartl said.

Neighboring Zimbabwe said it needed at least Z$300 million (U.S.$7.9 million) to repair flood-damaged infrastructure and warned that thousands of people there faced starvation because food distribution had been virtually impossible in some areas.

The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said several donor countries had pledged $13.5 million to Mozambique at emergency talks in Geneva. The government has said it will need $65 million to rebuild flood-stricken areas. Neighboring Botswana said it would give Mozambique 220,000 gallons of fuel to help in rescue operations.

The Rome-based World Food Program (WFP) said it had launched a $6.8 million emergency aid operation and estimated that immediate help was needed for up to 300,000 people.

The WFP has said it will use its own cargo planes and hire private aircraft to join South African aircraft and helicopters which have already distributed 1,200 tons of food for the WFP.

Britain said it had sent a military reconnaissance team to Mozambique to assess how it could help, and announced it would cancel all Mozambique's debts to it.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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