Mozambique + 1 more

Southern Africa: Floods report 19 Mar 2000

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 19 March (IRIN) - The latest meteorological forecast at the weekend showed light rain showers across much of Mozambique were expected to last well into the week and that rain was also forecast in neighbouring
In Geneva, Ross Mountain, the outgoing Special Humanitarian Envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said the UN will launch a new transitional appeal for Mozambique this week.

In Madagascar, the nation worst-hit after Mozambique by floods following two cyclones, UN agencies said more aircraft and helicopters were required for humanitarian relief. UNICEF cited concern about the malaria and cholera threats to flood victims.


Ross Mountain, the outgoing Special Humanitarian Envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan returned to Geneva on Friday after a two week mission in Mozambique where he praised the "extraordinary range of support" for the country's hundreds of thousands of flood victims by the international community and neighbouring nations.

In remarks at a news conference after a meeting with donors on his return, Mountain said contributions pledged and reported to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) were currently just short of US $119 million. The media, he said, had been an essential partner of the humanitarian community, broadcasting the images which ultimately influenced world public opinion.

In the coming week, Mountain said a new transitional appeal would be launched for Mozambique. It will focus on emergency assistance needs for a six month period and will link up with the reconstruction phase which will follow, covering the gaps between the emergency and the reconstruction phase. A donors conference on the reconstruction of Mozambique will take place in Rome at the end of April.

Latest figures released by OCHA at the weekend indicate that 463,000 people are being assisted during the present relief phase. They are located in 121 centres where they are provided with food, health services, clean water and shelter.

"The spectacular phase is over," Mountain said referring to the rescue of stranded and isolated people in the country. The search, however, was not yet over. He said military and civilian assets were being used to conduct reconnaissance missions.

There were currently 53 aircraft, including 37 helicopters, deployed around the country. Mountain expressed the hope that the waters of the main rivers would recede quickly so that the UN could help people return to normal life as soon as possible.

He also expressed concern at the health situation, saying malaria and cholera posed major threats. He also raised the "grave danger" posed by landmines dislodged by flood waters. The mine clearing programme, which prior to the floods already involved 500 people, will need to be resumed. He added that clearing farming land of mines will be even more dangerous and painstaking work.

The weather and river levels

In its latest report at the weekend, the government relief agency, the Instituto Nacional de Gestao de Calamidades (INGC) said the Movene River in the south of Mozambique was rising rapidly, and that the flood gates of a local dam in the area might have to be opened.

The nearby Incomati River also began to rise. As water levels in the Limpopo River started dropping, officials warned residents of Combumune and Chokwe to keep away from the riverbanks until they can guarantee that the river level will not rise again.

In Inhambane Province, the Save River basin had not resulted in increased water levels so far. "However, a new flood wave could pass down the valley if the present rains do cause a rise in water levels," the INGC warned.

Heavy rains further north near the second city of Beira, the Buzi River had risen substantially over the last 24 hours, due mainly to discharges from the Chicamba dam. Humanitarian monitors were watching the situation near the town of Buzi where the situation was described as "critical". The report said plans were underway to evacuate 500 families.

The Zambeze River showed a drop in water levels in Caia and Tete.

Slight flooding has occurred in the lower areas of the Messalo River basin in the far northern Cabo Delgado Province. The most vulnerable areas are Muidumbe, Langua, Marere and other locations along the riverbanks. The road to Mocimboa da Praia has been cut off.


The INGC said the most critical areas were in the camps and isolated villages of Sofala and Manica provinces, where heavy rain hampered relief efforts and making many of the roads impassable. Increased delivery of food aid by road is now beginning to take place, particularly to the towns and villages in northern Maputo and southern Gaza.


A working group has been established to ensure that standard figures are provided by UN agencies, NGOs and government departments relating to the hectares lost, families affected and needs in terms of seeds and tools.


In a new report at the weekend, WHO said the coming two to eight weeks would be critical for Mozambique's health and aid workers fighting the threat of potential cholera and malaria epidemics.

The WHO Representative for Mozambique, Dr Carlos Tiny, said: "Cholera and malaria remain our biggest health threats. Health workers are also seeing more acute diarrhoea cases every day. We are under a tremendous amount of pressure here to keep ahead of this problem.

"These diseases are preventable. We are doing all we can to slow the spread of disease but there are areas where people still do not have access to clean water or shelter and so they are obviously more at risk," he said.

WHO said the threat of a malaria epidemic in the country was increasing and would be at its most dangerous in three to six weeks time as floodwaters gradually subside, the rains stop and warm temperatures return creating ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

Suspected cholera cases are also on the rise with two special treatment centres set up in Maputo City and a third at Machava. "The fact that so many people are currently displaced also increases the threat of disease," the WHO report said.

Acute diarrhoea cases have increased significantly in the capital, Maputo, where 14 out of 100 diarrhoea patients tested recently were shown to have cholera.

The health ministry has prepared a three-month Malaria Emergency Control Plan supported by key UN health agencies, including WHO and UNICEF. It aims to institute early diagnosis and treatment for malaria, ensure mosquito population control, and protect people against bites through the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets.

African Heads of State will meet in Nigeria on 25 April to look at how best the disease can be rolled back in Africa. WHO said the summit "is expected to draw on Mozambique's experiences of tackling malaria following a disaster".

Water and sanitation

The INGC said a hygiene education campaign has started at accommodation centres in Maputo City. This will be expanded to cover Macia and Chacalane over the coming days.

The 40KVA generators ordered by UNICEF are expected on Monday. These are to be used in the town of Xai-Xai.

"The main difficulty facing the sector is the recent increases in the river levels, which is hindering assessment operations. This has been the case in Chibabava, Machanga, Buzi, Espungabeira and Machaze," it said.

It also said 83 unaccompanied children have been identified in the camps in Inhambane Province. Of these, only 5 had been reunited with their families.


"It has been suggested that the main distribution point for the Limpopo area should be moved from Palmeiras up to Xai-Xai," it said. Relief items could then be transported by road from Maputo City to this point, and then forward distribution would be by air. This would allow for a more effective use of the available air resources.


At the weekend, UNICEF and WFP said more helicopters and aircraft were required for the humanitarian relief operation for hundreds of thousands of people affected by the floods.

UN officials said that assessment teams travelling in the northeast Madagascar had found serious damage to the island's subsistence and cash crops, with rice fields submerged for over a week and coffee and bananas swept away.

UNICEF said in a statement this could leave hundreds of thousands of people without a secure source of food while simultaneously robbing them of their income. Rice is the basic food for most of Madagascar's people.

"We are very concerned about the immediate threat of malnutrition," said Dr. Sergio Soro, the UNICEF Representative in the capital Antananarivo. "If our assessments prove valid across the island, the loss of the rice crop could be devastating. It could mean serious malnutrition for hundreds of thousands of people."

He said malnutrition would make people more vulnerable to illness, exacerbating serious health problems. "And the loss of cash crops like bananas and coffee takes away people's livelihood at the same time. The floods here have created a spiral of disaster. It's just awful."

Approximately 400,000 people, half of them children, according to government figures, have been affected by the two cyclones Eline and Gloria which swept through the island last month and early this month.

"We learned from the Mozambique situation and got our supplies moving early," Soro said. "We didn't wait for the assessment missions."

He told IRIN the key obstacle to broader assessment missions and relief deliveries has been a lack of logistical capacity.

Health concerns

He cited continued reports of malaria and cholera outbreaks in affected areas. Madagascar already experiences high levels of malaria and cholera throughout the country. In the last twelve months over 19,000 cases of cholera have been reported, resulting in over 1,100 deaths.

Following the cyclones, large areas of stagnant water are encouraging mosquitoes, thus increasing the risk of malaria epidemics. UNICEF in Madagascar has procured 700,000 water purification tablets to help provide safe drinking water, the agency said in a report.

Madagascar has a population of roughly 15 million people, of which half are under the age of 18. According to UNICEF, three-quarters of the population is rural, and GNP per capita is estimated at US $250, making it one of the 20 poorest nations in the world. Even before the flood crisis, only 40 percent of Madagascar's people had access to safe water and adequate sanitation.


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