WFP airlifts emergency food to thousands of flood victims in Mozambique

MAPUTO - The United Nations World Food Programme has launched an emergency operation to airlift food to thousands of people who have been cut off by floods caused by Cyclone Japhet in central Mozambique.
On Sunday, a WFP helicopter made its first delivery of Corn Soya Blend (CSB) to stranded families in Javane, Cave, Xirire and Mangezi villages, located along the Save River, which burst its banks on March 11. The South African-owned Mi-8 will move at least 200 tons of food into these isolated areas from WFP's emergency base in Save town, which was re-opened this week after being shut since the flood emergency in 2000.

"These desperately hungry people have lost almost everything and are completely dependent on food aid," said Angela van Rynbach, WFP Country Director in Mozambique. "Using a helicopter is our only alternative since key roads are still under water or have been washed away. Many villagers, especially the 2,600 people in the Javane area, have been totally cut off for an entire week and many may remain that way for weeks to come."

The airlift operation, costing US$340,000, will provide maize meal, beans, CSB, high-energy biscuits and vegetable oil from WFP and the NGO Jesus Alive Ministries (JAM) for 15,000 people living in Machanga town, Javane and its surrounding villages, all located in southern Sofala Province's Machanga District, through the end of the week.

Strong winds and rain from Cyclone Japhet caused serious damage in central Mozambique when it hit in the first week of March. The cyclone then continued west into Zimbabwe where it unleashed heavy rains that sent waters rushing down the Save River back into Mozambique. The river overflowed and flooded the coastal lowland areas that straddle the Save, affecting some 50,000 people. Many fled their villages in search of higher ground, while others were left dangerously isolated.

The floods washed away and damaged roads which serve as the only major links into Machanga town, the district capital, and Nova Mambone, the northernmost town in Inhambane province, which lie on opposite banks of the Save River. Floods ravaged both areas in 1999 and 2000. Thousands of people have once again lost homes, household belongings, crops and livestock.

The humanitarian situation in villages such as Javane is now critical since the inhabitants were extremely vulnerable before the floods. One month ago, WFP took part in an assessment of the area after a hunger-related death was reported and discovered that Javane was facing severe food shortages. Additional food aid was on its way to Javane when the floods hit, preventing the arrival of the vital stocks.

WFP responded immediately to the floods, bringing in emergency food by road where possible, with support from the government's Disaster Management arm (INGC), and implementing partners JAM, Intermon-Oxfam and the Christian Council of Mozambique.

Some 25,000 people were hit by the floods in and around Nova Mambone in Guvuru district, where WFP is already providing emergency food for 16,000 drought-affected people. On March 15, the agency began distributing maize, beans, oil and salt to the remaining 9,000 men, women and children who have been devastated by the floods.

In addition, WFP helped transport some 2,500 people to higher ground and set up food kitchens and displacement camps for them in both Machanga and Guvuru districts. WFP also plans to deliver food by truck and tractor to another 13,000 flood-hit people in Guenje, Zimuala, Govanonhe, Matange and Mararanhe in Machanga district.

Early last week, WFP distributed food to 10,000 people in Machanga town. Wooden canoes packed with hungry families arrived in Machanga town in search of food on a waterway that was the main road into town from outlying villages just weeks ago.

As part of the airlift, WFP will transport additional rations to help these people survive in the month ahead. A large section of the road into Machanga has been completely washed away and will most likely not be repaired for several weeks or even months.

"Fortunately, we had stocks of food available in Machanga, so we were able to start distributing aid to those affected by the floods extremely quickly, but that supply has now run out," said van Rynbach. "There are still large numbers of people who need aid but the rapid and effective response from our Mozambique team has already helped thousands of hungry and devastated people cope with the disaster."

The torrential rain and flooding has added an extra strain to a population already heavily burdened by the effects of the drought. Before the cyclone, the region had been suffering from a severe dry spell that had ruined any possibility of a good maize harvest. In response, farmers had planted more drought resistant crops such as sweet potatoes and sorghum. These have all now been destroyed by the floods.

In many cases, this will be the third - or even fourth - failed harvest in five years following floods in 1999 and 2000 and drought in 2002. Having exhausted traditional coping mechanisms in previous years, thousands of households will have no option but to rely on food aid. WFP is currently aiming to feed 650,000 drought-affected people in Gaza, Tete, Inhambane, Sofala, Manica and Maputo provinces. That number is expected to rise substantially in the coming year.

"Every year this region seems to be struck by natural disaster, leaving tens of thousands of vulnerable people to battle for survival," said van Rynbach. "WFP will do its best to ensure that aid reaches all those in need but additional help will be required in the months ahead."

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. Every year WFP feeds around 80 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

Note to Media:

Jennifer Abrahamson (WFP Information Officer, Cell +27-83-3004954; Moz. off +258-1-494320) has been to the flood-affected areas and was present during the first airlift. She is now back in Maputo and available for interviews.

Photographs of the airlift will be available on Tuesday from WFP Johannesburg (contacts below).

Video b-roll will be available later in the week.

For more information please contact:
Katharina Gola, WFP Maputo, Tel +258-1-494320; Cell +258-82-328619
Michael Huggins, WFP Johannesburg, Tel +27-11-5171662, Cell +27-83-2913750
Richard Lee, WFP Johannesburg, Tel +27-11-517-1686, Cell +27-83-4601787
Trevor Rowe, WFP Chief Spokesperson, Tel. +39-06-65132602
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva, Tel.+41-22-9178564