WFP warns of increased need for emergency aids as floods continue to sweep across Mozambique

ROME - The United Nations World Food Programme warned today that the situation for hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans stranded by recent floods and cyclones is worsening and that people will increasingly run the risk of illness and starvation if humanitarian assistance is not immediately expanded.
Over the past five days, an additional four to eight meters of flood waters have engulfed the country's hardest hit areas caused by an overflowing of dams in Southern Africa and Zimbabwe. And the opening of the spillway gates of the Kariba dam on the Zambezi River yesterday will cause further flooding.

In response to the growing crisis, WFP is launching a massive emergency aid operation for the country -- and potentially the region. The food aid agency already estimates that immediate support is required to search, rescue and care for up to 300,000 people.

As an initial step, WFP has asked donors to fund a $4 million feeding operation, which was approved on 24 February, to ensure food supplies for approximately 110,000 people for the next three months. A further $2.8 million special operation has been approved for WFP to increase its air power to search and rescue survivors, as well as transport food and non-food aid. But WFP will need even further support from donors for the bigger operation that will follow.

"With more water coming the disaster could spread much wider. Thousands of people are stranded, some on rooftops, in trees, on anything they can cling too," said Jean-Jacques Graisse, Assistant Executive Director and Director of Operations. "International donor support is immediately needed if we are to save lives."

The most critically hit areas are inaccessible by road, as the heavy flood waters washed away entire sections of the country's main transportation network and completely submerged many secondary roads reported WFP staff in the field. Private trucks attempting to ferry commercial food supplies and other urgent items such as water, fuel, and kerosene are reportedly getting stuck en route.

Using a fleet of seven helicopters and five aircraft from the South African National Defense Force, WFP has already shuttled some 1,200 metric tons of maize, pulses, sugar and oil to over 50 key delivery points in badly hit districts. The food is being distributed to over 100,000 people with the help of local authorities, non-governmental agencies, church groups, and area residents.

The agency is using the helicopter fleet to run search and rescue missions to pluck survivors from the waters and deposit them on higher ground.

"The entire population in the affected areas is either in water up to their necks or stranded in treetops," said WFP Logistics Officer Asfaw Ayelign. "Before we even give them food, we have to get them to safety. The priority is to get them to a place where they can be cared for."

A large WFP team is spread out throughout the country's southern and central regions to run the logistics operation, oversee food distributions, monitor the conditions of the people and report on other humanitarian needs that are developing as the crisis continues.

WFP staff report that in some villages thousands of people are living precariously huddled in the few public buildings still above water and other makeshift shelters. Most have lost their homes, crops, livestock, and personal possessions.

WFP staff working in Beira, Mozambique's largest and busiest port, reported that cyclone Elina sank four ships docked in the port's channel. As a result, port activities have been severely hampered. WFP has 365 tons emergency food supplies waiting to be cleared from the port for emergency distribution in flood-struck areas in the central region of the country.

"The situation for these people, particularly those who are still stranded, is quickly deteriorating," Graisse said. "This disaster is of epic proportions and we urgently need donor support if we are to expand our operations to meet all the needs."

WFP is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. In 1999 WFP fed more than 88 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

For more information please contact:

Francis Mwanza
Public Information Officer, WFP Rome
Tel. 39 06 6513-2623

Michele Quintaglie
Public Information Officer, WFP Maputo
Tel. 258 82316644

Christiane Berthiaume
Public Information Officer, WFP Geneva
Tel. +41-22-9178564

Abby Spring
Public Information Officer, WFP New York
Tel. +1-212-9635196