Mozambique + 2 more

Southern Africa: Floods update

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 14 March (IRIN) - As humanitarian flood relief operations in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe continued this week, reports came in on Tuesday of a higher death toll in Mozambique, severe farming damage in Madagascar, and growing numbers of people affected in Zimbabwe.
Relief officials said on Tuesday Mozambique remained by far the most seriously devastated by floods and heavy rains brought in by cyclone Eline last month, and cyclone Gloria earlier this month. The tropical storms swept through Madagascar and moved east through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with weaker rains and lesser flood damage further afield in Zambia and the usually arid and drought-stricken nations of Botswana, and its western neighbour, Namibia.

In Zimbabwe and Madagascar, UN and NGO teams scheduled meetings with government relief agencies to get a better picture of the extent of the damage. In both nations, the indications given to IRIN on Tuesday were grim.


For the next two months, according to a UNDP report from the capital Antananarivo, aircraft, helicopters and lorries will be required for the distribution of emergency relief supplies to supplement two government aircraft currently chartered by the UN.

WFP spokesman, Wagdi Othman, told IRIN: "Over the next 15 days, we will be providing food for 43,231 people in desperate need. The total number of people affected by these floods is now estimated at 469,370 and they are mainly in the east, the northeast and the highlands regions. There has been terrible devastation to farmlands, especially rice crops."

Isolated towns

Initial assessments he said showed that the worst affected areas so far appeared to be the northeastern district near the coastal town of Sambava, some 550 northeast of Antananarivo.

"As we speak a French helicopter from the carrier Jeanne d'Arc is flying over the area to see where we can place relief supplies for people who have been cut off. At the moment, we are especially concerned about four towns which have been completely isolated in the area just south of Sambava." The towns are Marolambe, Anosibe, An'ala and Mananpotsy.

The UNDP report cited Sambava itself, Andapa and Maroantsetra as also being isolated after roads in the area were damaged.

Othman, who visited Maroantsetra by air this week, said 80 percent of local crops had reportedly been destroyed: "We are having a real problem because people have lost their crops in many parts of the northeast, and we are facing food shortages because the next harvest in that area is not due until December," he said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that besides the northeast and east of the country, the main regions affected included the southwest and the centre of Madagascar around Antananarivo.

OCHA, in its latest report said that because various areas remained cut off by flood waters, "the total affected population in these areas is still being assessed".

Donor response

The defence ministry announced the arrival of two French naval ships, the helicopter carrier, Jeanne d'Arc with six helicopters, and the frigate George Leygues with 27 mt of medical and other supplies.

It added that a Hercules C-160 cargo plane and a helicopter were expected from the nearby French island of Reunion together with about 40 military personnel. They were expected to start an emergency airdrop to isolated communities.

WFP on Tuesday said it had diverted a cargo aircraft from Mozambique's second city, Beira. The plane was due to cross the 400 km-wide Mozambique Channel and land in northeast of the giant Indian Ocean island later in the day, Othman said.

In other emergency responses so far, UNDP said the European Union (EU) had allocated US $5.15 million for various emergency programmes; USAID and CARE International were providing assistance to finance aerial surveys and road repairs; the French chapter of Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) had sent 35 mt of food and medical assistance. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were also providing emergency relief. Further support was coming from UN agencies.

The toll

The government has announced a death toll of over 130 people. But in the northeastern Sava region alone, UNDP said a surveillance flight last week reported 56 dead, 36 people missing, and 2,400 affected by the floods.


OCHA said a coordination meeting was being held daily under the chairmanship of the government disaster agency, the Conseil national de secours (CNS), with UN agencies, the French government agency, Cooperation Francaise, USAID, the EU, and NGOs.

"The aim of these meetings is to exchange and up-date information, OCHA said. Two working groups had been established. One deals with logistical aspects, including CNS, WFP and UNICEF, to coordinate the use of means of transport. The second handling health, water and sanitation needs, is run by the CNS, WHO, ICRC and MSF-France.


In Zimbabwe, the UN Country Team reported that about 500,000 people were affected by the floods. Of these an estimated 96,000 required urgent help in food, shelter, health, water and sanitation, agriculture, education and communications and transport. About 20 000 of these people have been displaced and are homeless.

In its latest report, the team said: "Further, the UN assessment is that there is no immediate life threatening situation to the affected people now that the floods have subsided.

"However, the possible disease outbreaks in these areas remain a main threat. Some of the displaced people are living in camps or schools, while others are either with friends or relatives," it said.

The toll

So far, according to preliminary information gathered in Zimbabwe from various sources including the District Development Fund, the Civil Protection Department, Care International, and provincial administrators, 102 deaths had been recorded, 107 bridges had sustained damage, and nearly 3,000 homes had been destroyed.

The areas worst affected

The country was hit on 22 February by cyclone Eline, which cut a swathe of devastation through the east and south of the country, causing flooding in the upper reaches of key rivers flowing towards the Mozambique coast. Four provinces affected are Manicaland, Matebeleland South, Masvingo and Midlands.

The worst damaged areas lie in the Save River basin in Manicaland, the Limpopo River in the southern provinces of Matebeleland South and Masvingo. The main tributaries of the Limpopo including the Shashe and Bubi rivers were affected, the report said.

In these areas rainy season flooding had already been experienced around 4-6 February: "In this season some very arid areas in Matebeleland South, Masvingo and Manicaland received uncharacteristically high rainfall," the report said. "When the cyclone occurred it attacked an already fragile environment causing landslides and flooding," it said.


Communications systems were destroyed by strong winds, bridges were damaged, and some dwellings were swept away. The effect of the floods and the cyclone was that some people were left without access to the rest of the country. There is a strong possibility of disease outbreaks in the aftermath of the flood.

"The disasters happened during a period when the country is experiencing a deep economic crisis. There are shortages of petroleum fuel due to lack of foreign exchange for procurement," the UN Country team reported. "However, the national response to the emergency has generally been good with food supplies, clothing and various funds set up to support those affected.

It said the government, members of the public, NGO's and the private sector had done a "sterling job" contributing food, medication such as malaria medicine, water treatment tablets, some tents and even transport to ferry the donated goods to the needy.


Displaced people wanted to relocate to their homes and consequently needed help top repair roads, schools, clinics, damaged water mains.

"The field based comparisons of the data collected and the situation on the ground indicated that there were discrepancies between the two" the report said. The UN was also fielding three teams to assist with assessment and to improve the data on the current needs. The Forestry Commission were still working on the figures and indicated that the shortage of engineers to do the damage assessment had been delaying their information gathering.


The UN Disaster Management Team (DMT) said it was coordinating donor activities in an effort to avoid duplication of activities by those interested in assisting the affected people.

"In doing so, the UN is liasing closely with government and the National Civil Protection Department, the Provincial Civil Protection and the Districts Civil Protection. The Disaster management Team convenes meetings to brief donors every week and is in constant dialogue with donors and government," the report said.

Requirements by sector

The preliminary assessment of 96 000 people in great need has been the basis for the requirements detailed by sector. Due to the unavailability of accurate information, it said the figures are based on extrapolation and estimates. But it said, for immediate needs only, a total of US $3.1 million would be needed. Giving the breakdown, the report said US $26,000 would be required for emergency food relief, US $943,049 for health, US $196,500 for water and sanitation, US $15,000 for farming, US $95,000 for education US $1,256,250 for communications, and US $629,000 for coordination and management.


The weather forecast for Mozambique on Tuesday said cloudy weather was likely to continue until the end of the week over much of the country where close to 500 people are now confirmed to have died as a result of the floods.

Meanwhile, South African President Thabo Mbeki arrived in the capital, Maputo, early on Tuesday ahead of a meeting of leaders from the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).

A Mozambique government spokesman said: "The leaders plan to meet and evaluate the extent of the disaster not just in Mozambique, but the region and draw up a common strategy to deal with the fall-out."

News reports said fighting broke out at a food distribution point in the badly flooded southern town of Chokwe on Monday, raising concerns that frustration built up by more than a month of flooding could quickly turn into anger. Thousands of ordinary Mozambicans, many of whom endured a bitter 16-year civil war that ended only in 1992, have lost everything they owned to the flood waters.

Evolution of the Floods

The level of the southern Limpopo River in Combomune continue to drop, although this trend is expected to change over the coming days due to the rains that have fallen in South Africa over the weekend. The Incomati River is also expected to rise slightly because of this.

Further north, the government disaster management authority, the Instituto Nacional de Gestao das Calamidades (INGC), said in its latest report that levels along the Save and Buzi Rivers were dropping. However, a state of maximum alert was declared along the River Pungue and River Licungo.

Air operations

It reported that there were currently 15 aircraft and 40 helicopters conducting relief operations in Mozambique. The US Air Force had carried out aerial surveys of railway lines, camps along the Save River and the entire length of the Incomati River.


Three key operations proposed by WFP, the leader agency in Mozambique, were approved by headquarters, the report said. These include US $27 million for 53,000 tons of emergency food assistance for 650,000 people until mid-August. A further US $3 million to fund the South African helicopters until the end of the month, and a further US $4 million to fund emergency road and rail repairs until the end of April.

"WFP's main priority is to encourage the gradual reduction of free food distribution, and to replace this with food-for-work schemes and supplementary feeding programmes," WFP spokeswoman Lindsey Davies told IRIN. "The food-for-work schemes will aim to support the rehabilitation and repair of essential infrastructure, such as secondary roads, canals, dykes, schools, and health posts."


Over the weekend, health ministers from neighbouring SADC countries visited flooded areas in the southern Gaza and Maputo provinces for a first-hand review of the situation. Spain sent an emergency hospital with medical equipment to Mozambique.

"In the coming week, further medical supplies and medical teams will be sent from Maputo to the provinces," the INGC report said. "The main difficulty at the moment is deciding how to treat those people who have begun to return to locations still deemed unsafe." It said medical teams were being deployed in the central province of Tete in anticipation of further flooding in the Zambezi valley.

Most of the equipment in the Chokwe Hospital in southern Mozambique appeared to have been destroyed, the INGC said. This included the X-ray machine, the operating theatre, and the generator. MSF are running a tent health post in the town centre, and health treatment is also available at the Centro Carmelo being run by nuns, with MSF support.

The report said the water supply had to be reestablished, as well as environmental sanitation measures, "such as the removal of dead bodies, solid waste, mud, etc." The Swiss chapter of MSF has been assisting with this, but further body bags are required, it said.

At Macia Hospital, south of Chokwe, all 100 beds are occupied, and additional patients are sleeping on the floor. Nine tents have been prepared to accommodate up to 45 TB patients. The hospital has water, electricity, and has received 23 additional staff.

Main needs at the hospital were for 10 tents for extra health workers and patients, 40 reed mats, additional drug supplies, supplementary food for malnourished children, HIV-spot testing capacities and blood bag stock.

A group of 37,464 displaced people cramming Macia town need jerry cans, plastic sheeting, soap, hand tools, and kitchen utensils. An additional 13,654 displaced people are thought to have been integrated into host families.

At Chicumbane Hospital, in the same area, it said an average of 60 paediatric cases of malaria are being registered daily, where staff were performing an average of 10 blood transfusions. But the hospital's water system is out of order, and water is being collected from a nearby well. There are approximately 2,000 displaced people in the area around the hospital. It urgently needed Giemsa and immersion oil for malaria testing, 20 pipettes, improved HIV-spot testing capacity, blood bags, one or two water bladders, and supplementary foods for malnourished children.

Water and sanitation

It said plans were underway for the reestablishment this week of the water supply in the southern towns of Chokwe and Xai-Xai. A list of NGOs working in this sector is being drafted so that their location and resources can be easily coordinated.

Shelter and accommodation

At Chacalane camp in Gaza province, there were now 57,183 people. Three large water containers are supplying drinking water, and 355 latrines are being built. A health post with 12 national health workers is operating in the camp, and a fully equipped hospital camp is being set up by a team of Spanish doctors.

However, the displaced residents of the camp still needed 12 tents for health care, jerry-cans, plastic sheeting, kitchen utensils, soap and hand tools. INGC also requested 10 loudspeakers to broadcast information, a coordination between the Spanish and the provincial health authorities.


IRIN-SA - Tel: +2711 880 4633
Fax: +2711 880 1421

[This item is delivered in the English service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information, free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: or Web: . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.]

Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2000