/ 3 February 2008

Floods worsen in Malawi

Malawi’s president flew over the flood-stricken Shire Valley on Sunday where nearly 50 000 people have lost their homes and crops to raging waters that have wreaked havoc in many parts of Southern Africa.

Nationally, more than 70 000 have been displaced in Malawi. In neighbouring Mozambique, more than 90 000 have been evacuated to resettlement camps, and southern Zambia and Zimbabwe have also been badly hit.

Six people were confirmed dead in Malawi’s Lower Shire Valley district of Chikwawa, according to local official Gertrude Kamange.

They included three brothers who were swept away by floods as they returned from a soccer match, and a separate family of three.

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika toured the stricken area in a helicopter, and voiced concern that the floods would affect food production since large tracts of crop fields have been destroyed. He pleaded with people to leave the fertile agricultural area and move to higher ground.

”My government is ready to assist you building houses, schools and clinics,” he said. ”Please let us cooperate so that floods cease to be a perennial problem.”

Residents in the flood-prone area have resisted the government’s call for them to move upland because they claim the low-lying areas have alluvial soils good for agriculture while the higher ground is rocky and patchy.

Some also believe they will be cursed if they abandon the lands where their ancestors were buried.

But Mutharika said they could build houses on higher ground and continue farming in the valley. ”It doesn’t make sense to continue staying where you know you stand the risk of being swept away by floods,” he said.

Flooding regularly affects many parts of Southern Africa in the rainy season, but this year the rains have come earlier and been more torrential than usual.

Mozambique often bears the brunt of the flooding as the mighty Zambezi and other rivers from landlocked African countries hurtle toward the Indian Ocean. It has a highly praised disaster-management programme, including forced evacuations that have successfully limited the number of casualties. — Sapa-AP