News from Maputo 02 Mar 2000

Attached is a firsthand report from one of AFSC's partner organizations on the ground.
Sent: Thursday, March 02, 2000 5:52 AM
Subject: Update Mozambique

Despite lack of access to the few helicopters available, which are the only means of reaching stranded communities and holding camps along the Limpopo and other flooded rivers, Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM) staff and their local church networks have been doing what they can in areas they can reach by road vehicles and on foot. By now they have distributed emergency supplies to 35 000 flood victims in Matola and Katembe. They are working in conjunction with a government-chaired disaster response committee which responds to update reports of conditions from all parts of the country.

The first donations of money on which CCM relief efforts got started came from their own staff members who contributed US $3 500. Jorge Samuel of the CCM staff says "CCM has been conducting a campaign to raise support throughout the country and municipal councils, businesses, local community organizations, churches and individuals are responding. It is really amazing to see the generous response of the Mozambican public who have come forward with material goods and moral support."

An immediate injection of US $20 000 from the Mennonite Central Committee boosted CCM's starter fund, Church World Service also sent an immediate US $10 000 and Christian Aid sent personnel to Maputo to help with needs assessments and publicity.

CCM relief officer Titos Macie managed for the first time today to get to inaccessible communities up-river by hitching a ride with a group of British journalists who hired a helicopter in Johannesburg. He says the day's exposure gave him moments of encouragement but he was also saddened by much of what he saw.

"We flew over Magudi District and landed in Chinavane on the road between Maputo and Xai Xai. The entire city of Xai Xai, provincial capitol of Gaza Province, is under water. Chinavane itself is under water in several of the bairros. Many people have taken refuge in the drier (or should I say "less wet") parts of the town. People are sleeping in the open and the mosquito population which has bred in the lakes of water is a real menace. We saw people whose limbs were swollen from mosquito bites. When we tried to get back into our helicopter there was a cloud of mosquitoes that had moved in to occupy it and we could hardly enter. The risk of malaria is very high. We also saw people suffering from respiratory infections related to the wet and cold, and there is a lot of diarrhoea.

"I talked to one of the Presbyterian Church members who is working in Chinavane as a volunteer with the Red Cross. He had managed to make his way to Maputo by a series of boats, cars and on foot to try and obtain medicines, but found they are in short supply and he returned with only a few containers of disinfectant.

"We then flew over Macia and down the road towards Chokwe. There is now dry land up to a certain point and we reached a huge encampment of 25 000 people at Chiaquelane. These are people who fled from Chokwe and the surrounding villages before the floods hit. I saw an old man there who was just one example of what has become of so many people. He was sitting in deep depression with only one possession left to his name - a badly torn scrap of blanket. His wife was sick.

"There is clean water at Chiaquelane that can be obtained by hand pump, but it is not enough for everyone there. There are tents for people to sleep in but again not enough for everyone. Aid workers are trying decide whether to move all those people to Macia where there is a hospital and better possibilities of getting aid to them, or to hope that the land around Chokwe will dry out within the next few days enough for people to return and restart their lives. There are immediate advantages for the people if they go to Macia, but they would be farther from home there. In terms of recovery, the closer to home they are and the faster they can start to rebuild would perhaps be an advantage.

"After Chiaquelane we flew on to the flooded town of Chokwe itself and circled around. It is still water logged, and has become a ghost town, but we saw a few people making their way through the water. Someone was drying clothes on the roof of a house. I thought these few might be the first ones starting to return from wherever they had taken refuge. The ground is still too wet for heavy vehicles to attempt to enter the area.

"On the way back to Maputo we flew over the sugar plantations and the huge refinery at Manhica. The entire plantation of cane has been flushed away and the refinery itself and its machinery is destroyed. Just last year the refinery was revamped and modernized and the expectation was that it would supply most of the country's sugar needs and provide substantial exports.

"Tomorrow I will try to get up-country towards Machanga and Buzi to try and map out places where seeds and tools can be dropped by air to people who need to revive their food production activities. The Canadian Food Grains Bank is planning to assist us with this recovery program."

Asked how the CCM staff were holding up under the enormous pressure of work and long hours and the emotional burden they were carrying, Titos said "We are tired. Sometimes we just find ourselves standing - we don't know what to do next."

The Malawian churches through their Church Action in Relief and Development programme have offered back-up assistance with personnel who have been trained in emergency management. At present they are helping to monitor the situation from their side of the border along the Zambezi River in the north around the flat Mutarara area, in view of the potential danger from the Kariba Dam being opened to release flood waters, and Cyclone Gloria which is currently hovering over the Mozambique Channel.

Colleagues in the South African Council of Churches are keeping in touch with government experts who monitors the rivers, in light of the information that the Inkomati River which flows through South Africa to Maputo is said to have risen another metre yesterday.

In Zimbabwe, Christian Care is giving CCM assistance to scout the situation in areas of western Mozambique (Machaze, Mossurize, Chicaulacuala, Massangena) that are more accessible from Zimbabwe than from within Mozambique. Initial fears that people in these regions might have to cross into Zimbabwe to seek aid have not materialised.

Shirley DeWolf
Southern African Churches in Ministry with Uprooted People
=A9 American Friends Service Committee

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