"We are making a difference" - Mozambique

Since the first week of February, when the devastating floods turned Maputo into an island, the inhabitants living in the low-lying slums of the Mozambiquan capital have been unable to get back to their homes. If they are still standing.
Several neighbourhoods have been under water for more than a month and some are regularly hit by flash floods. Each time there is a heavy downpour, the consequences on an area already severely waterlogged, are devastating. Strong torrents run through the small dust alleys, invading each household and leaving filthy rubbish in their wake. Broken sewage pipes and latrines leaking their contents into the floodwaters are another danger to the population. The fact that the number of cholera cases in Maputo have been relatively small considering the scale of the disaster, is a miracle. It's an outcome that is partly due to the work of the Red Cross.

Dedicated volunteers from the Mozambique Red Cross have been taking a health education campaign straight to the people. Sixteen year-old Natalie Simoes is part of one team of volunteers specialising in teaching people how to chlorinate water. "In some areas we have been to, the health situation has improved and people do follow our advice. Yes, we are making a difference," she says.

Working eight hours a day, seven days a week, the volunteers provide chlorine tablets to enable the people to have supplies of safe drinking water for several days.

More than 10,000 homeless people are still scattered in nine accommodation centres, sometimes only a few yards away from what remains of their homes. Some people are in abandoned warehouses or just taking shelter under corrugated iron sheets. And they, like many others, are overwhelmed by despair. Olinda Pedro, a 54 year-old mother, is half blind. The walls crumbled down around her when the floods came. With water up to her chest and unable to get out, she was rescued by a neighbour.

"I have nothing left and nowhere to go" she says. "I just don't know what my future will be."

In the accommodation centres, the Mozambique Red Cross is focusing its efforts on providing first aid and medication to those that need it. It also distributes food, blankets, mosquito nets and kitchen equipment. Here as well, the danger of cholera and other waterborne diseases looms over the people. There are flies everywhere, spreading germs from the latrines to the food the people eat.

A theatre group made up of Red Cross volunteers tour the Maputo centres and give a daily performance on waterborne diseases. The audience is young, with plenty of mothers with their children. The performance makes people laugh. They have little to laugh about - the topic is deadly serious. But volunteer Sergio Gajanjote acknowledges humour is the only way to get the message across.

"The victims are sometimes very depressed and lost in their thoughts, so if we want to raise their attention, we ought to be comical once in a while," he says.

At the end of the show, the actors ask the audience questions to make sure it understood the message.

For the time being, the situation in Maputo is under control. But further heavy rains are expected.

Abel Bernardino, a volunteer since 1981, is coordinating health programmes at the Maputo headquarters. "The population is aware that the Red Cross has done a tremendous job, that's why people have donated so much to us," he says.

The goodwill is important. There is still an incredible amount of work ahead and it will take years before the people in Mozambique will be able to resume a normal life.

=A91997 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies