A country sick of water

Fears of more rain in the coming days have sent aid agencies into a panic as the humanitarian disaster caused by the floods in Mozambique unfolds. The United Nations says the floods could turn out to be the worst in recent memory.

Seven people have died and up to 70 000 have been displaced by the floods that have come earlier than forecast. About 7 000 people still need to be evacuated.
Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi have been affected. But it is Mozambique that is worst hit. Its rivers are fed by rainfall in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Further rainfall is expected in the coming days and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) spokesperson Peter Rees has called for immediate action to deal with the crisis.

“The weather forecast for the next seven days is not good with more rain expected, which could last until April,” said Rees. “If this happens, Southern Africa will certainly face major flooding with potentially catastrophic consequences.”

Seasonal flooding has become a regular occurrence in Southern Africa, but the UN said it was concerned the rains this year had been heavier and had come earlier than the normal February peak.

A bulletin from the Famine Early Warning System Network postulated that central Mozambique now faced two potential outcomes: a repeat of last year’s flooding, when peak water levels were sustained for a relatively short 15 days, or a repeat of the disastrous floods of 2001, when flood-level waters lingered for 45 days.

But National Disaster Management Institute officials were more optimistic about the situation in the Buzi and Pungoe river basins in central Sofala Province and along the Limpopo River further to the south, saying water levels there were expected to remain stable in the near future.

UN spokesman Luis Zaqueu said although Mozambique’s emergency that services were well prepared, the scenario could change as raging waters engulfed agricultural lands and wrecked infrastructure such as roads and bridges in the centre of the country.

“Because the rains started earlier than predicted and because of the high water levels — which are getting higher each moment — the situation is likely to be worse than in 2000/2001,” Zaqueu told news agencies.

The ministry of education in Mozambique said at least 49 schools had been swept away and pupils would be housed in tents when the new school year started. UN children’s agency Unicef has entered into a partnership with the child rights group, Save the Children, and the government to try to prevent cholera and malaria.

ActionAid said it had worked with the Mozambique government to rescue 5 400 people who were cut off by the flood waters from the Zambezi River. It also warned that up to 250 000 people in Mozambique were at risk as the lower Zambezi valley was being flooded by waters from the giant Cahora Bassa dam.

Broken rescue boats, problems with radio communications, food shortages in camps in Zambezia Province and the accidental distribution of chlorine for water treatment that was past its expiration date have hampered the evacuation and resettlement process. The provincial government of Zambezia said it had distributed 10 tons of maize to the affected camps, but officials could not say with certainty whether the chlorine supplies had been replaced.

More than 37 000 hectares of cultivated land were lost. Although the World Food Programme has been distributing food in the region since the floods in 2007, spokesperson Peter Keller-Transburg said the situation could worsen.

“There are 250 000 people living downstream of the [Cahora Bassa] dam. This is the second year they will lose everything,” ActionAid Mozambique director Alberto Silva said in a statement.

Additional reporting by Alertnet and Percy Zvomuya

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