Mozambique News Agency

No.178, 6th March 2000


Relief work intensifies in flood-stricken regions

International relief workers on 5 March intensified relief operations in the flood-stricken regions of southern and central Mozambique. The operations, carried out in helicopters and light aircraft, involved taking food and medical care to the victims of the flooding.

The first British, German and French military helicopters joined small squadrons from South Africa and Malawi that have borne the brunt of the rescue effort since mid-February, facing a logistical nightmare as they battled to provide life-saving relief to hundreds of thousands of people.

Two French warships docked in Maputo port on 4 March, and the first of the seven C-130 airplanes belonging to the United States Air Force arrived on 5 March in the Hoedspruit air base in South Africa, where 800 marines who will take part in the relief operations in Mozambique will be stationed.

The country's National Disasters Management Institute (INGC) is working to coordinate this multi-national effort.

President Joaquim Chissano was quoted by the BBC as saying that the country will need about $250 million in aid in the months ahead.

For the hundreds of thousands cut off from food and safe drinking water, the relay flights of food, medicine and water-purification equipment may make the difference between life and death.

"It's a day of reckoning. Yesterday we saw huge amounts of aircraft coming in, so on this first day of the new phase of the emergency we have to make sure that everything is coordinated," Lindsey Davies, spokeswoman for the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), said.

"Maputo has not seen this number of aircraft in its history, so a huge challenge will be to try to coordinate all the different aircraft that are coming in," she said, adding that "we visited one camp on Saturday where there were 3,500 people and just two latrines. There was absolutely no medical assistance and there wasn't enough water either."

She said there was food in the country for 15 days and enough on the way for a further 30 days. Davies said Mozambique had lost a third of the staple maize crop and that 80 percent of the nation's cattle was dead or dying.

Human bodies and dead animals exposed by receding flood waters posed a further health hazard to people left with little more than the clothes they wore when they were rescued from rooftops and trees. Hundreds of children, some too young to know their own names, had either lost or been separated from their parents.

Two of Britain's four Puma helicopters arrived at Maputo airport on 6 March as a 100-member commando unit prepared to swing into action after diplomatic wrangles and delays. One area the to be targetted is the delta of the River Save, on the boundary between Inhambane and Sofala provinces.

A three-helicopter, 70-member German team has arrived and will be sent to Beira to help with medical care. Four more choppers were on their way from Germany.

Before the discovery on Saturday of 40 bodies in the district of Chokwe, in the southern province of Gaza, the official death toll was 200. However, as the waters subside more bodies will be found.

European Union pledge 25 million Euros

The European Union (EU) has reiterated that it is pledging 25 million Euros (about $25 million) in aid for the victims of floods that have left a trail of devastation in much of southern and central Mozambique. 4.15 million Euros of this sum has been earmarked for emergency food and humanitarian aid. Half of this amount has already been made available, and the remainder will be delivered shortly.

Speaking on 3 March at a Maputo press conference, the EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Poul Nielson, who on arrived on 2 March in the country for a three-day visit, said "this assistance will ensure that humanitarian organisations can continue their relief work, bringing much needed help to those who have lost their homes and livelihoods and are now facing serious nutritional, hygiene and health problems".

No date has been set for the disbursement of the remaining 20.85 million Euros, but Nielson said that it will be used to help people get back their lives to normal once the floods subside.

"The EU will follow up immediate humanitarian assistance with medium and long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts", he said.

In addition, Nielson said that the EU, the biggest single donor to Mozambique, was prepared to provide more funding if the Mozambican government could justify its application. "The remarkable progress made by Mozambique in recent years cannot be washed aside by what is a disaster on a monumental scale", said Nielson.

But most of this could only be possible with good coordination between donors and government. "It is necessary to secure proper conditions of coordination, otherwise our aid will not reach the people affected", said the Portuguese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Luis Amado, who also took part in the press conference.

Currently, it has not been possible to get the aid to all the people, admitted Amado. But this was chiefly due to the Mozambican government's lack of logistical resources to deal with the tragedy, he said.

"Consequently, there is a need for a well coordinated effort with the Mozambican authorities and other donors to make the link between emergency and development by a regeneration programme for the region over the next three to four years", said Amado.

Nielson added that in a meeting with government authorities the latter suggested that they would prefer that any supplies also be directed to places other than Maputo. This would ensure that the suppliers do more than just fly in plane-loads of aid to the capital, and try to get the aid to areas of difficult access as well.

He also said that focus should be placed on the accommodation centres where living conditions seem to be deteriorating.

More humanitarian aid flies in

More humanitarian aid for the victims of the catastrophic floods has continued to pour in, according to the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC).

A Libyan cargo aircraft ferrying 15 tonnes of maize, three tonnes of tomatoes, three tonnes of cooking oil, and six tonnes of clothing for women and children clothing arrived on 1 March in Maputo.

Another cargo plane belonging to the US Air Force flew in to deliver 200 plastic rolls to be used for shelters, 4,000 blankets, 6,000 20-litre jerrycans, and an unspecified quantity of enriched biscuits.

A light aircraft arrived from the Kingdom of Lesotho with milk and bread.

The Portuguese government announced on 3 March, an additional $1 million for assistance to the victims of the floods. The Portuguese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Luis Amado, said that this money is to hire aircraft and but fuel for the rescue operations.

According to a report by the UN news agency, IRIN, on 2 March Portugal cancelled nearly a tenth of Mozambique's bilateral debt, as part of its response to the flooding in Mozambique. It was reported that $145 million of debt was written off.

Also on 2 March, the Swedish government announced that it is to grant $20 million for assistance to the flood victims. This package is a combination of additional funds, and existing commitments that are simply to be disbursed earlier than planned. The latter include $11.5 which were to be disbursed along the present year.

Sweden is also to grant $5.8 million for the rehabilitation of infrastructures, particularly roads. Swedish NGOs have so far raised $150,000.

For its part, the German government has increased its aid to rescue operations from $1.5 to $5.1 million. The German government is also sending its own helicopters to Mozambique to take part in rescue operations.

The Belgian government is granting about $3 million worth of humanitarian aid to be distributed among the victims of the floods. The announcement was made in Maputo on 3 March by the Belgian Secretary of State for Development and Cooperation, Eddy Boutmans.

Priority shifts to food distribution

Helicopters and small boats have already rescued thousands of people who had been stranded by the floods, and now, although the rescue work continues, efforts are mainly concentrating on distributing food and other basic needs to the victims, said Mozambican officials involved in the process.

Most of the helicopters that were involved in the rescue missions were redirected, as from 4 March, to the task of food distribution, but some will still search for isolated victims in need of rescue.

Despite the lowering of the flood waters in some of the flood-stricken regions, members of survey teams believe that there are still about 15,000 people who are isolated, particularly in the Save river valley.

Aid workers fear that the death toll from the floods may run into thousands, and the collection of bodies found floating in the water is rendered difficult by the shortage of body bags.

The Mozambican authorities now estimate that about a million people across the country are in need of emergency food aid, medicines and other basic goods, but to take the goods to the needy represents a logistical nightmare since most of the areas concerned can only be reached by air.

The helicopters managed to rescue about 11,000 people, but authorities fear that thousands of others may have died before help could reach them.

Main road under repair in Sofala

Work is being carried out on the main north-south highway in Chibabava district, in the central province of Sofala, to make it easier to transport relief aid by road.

The road was cut in five places in Chibabava about a fortnight ago, due to a dramatic rise in the level of the Gorongosa river. For a period, parts of the road were under one and a half metres of water.

This meant that nothing could be transported by road to Inhambane and Gaza provinces from Beira: trucks from Beira had been used to supply these provinces after the main road had been cut on 10 February by the flood on the Incomati river about 90 kilometres north of Maputo, thus isolating Gaza and Inhambane from the capital.

Once the road is repaired in Chibabava, supplies can be moved overland to flood victims in the Save valley, which marks the boundary between Sofala and Inhambane, and further south to victims in the Limpopo Valley.

As for the breaks in the road caused by the Incomati, these are being gradually repaired now that the flood waters have subsided in Maputo province.

But there is no sign of when it will be possible to repair the third major break, at Chicumbane, just outside the Gaza provincial capital of Xai-Xai, where the Limpopo flood is still raging.

Meanwhile, the publicly-owned electricity company, EDM, has said that flood damage to the transmission lines from the Cahora Bassa dam is causing losses of around $900,000.

The Limpopo flood knocked down two pylons in the Pafuri region, near the South African border, on 25 February, thus interrupting the supply of Cahora Bassa power to South Africa.

This power is normally routed through South Africa to southern Mozambique. EDM pays the Cahora Bassa company, HCB, for this electricity in local currency. But when the Cahora Bassa power is not flowing, EDM is forced to buy power from its South African counterpart, ESKOM, at a much higher price and in hard currency.

There are two lines from Cahora Bassa to South Africa: unfortunately for EDM, one pylon was knocked down on each line.

A spokesman for HCB, Abel de Carvalho, said that it was impossible to predict when the two pylons might be replaced.

Floods cost CFM $50,000 a day

The publicly-owned Mozambican Ports and Railway company (CFM) is incurring losses estimated at $50,000 a day, because of the paralysis of the rail system in the south of the country, that has been heavily damaged by the current floods.

The chairman of the CFM board of directors, Rui Fonseca, told a press conference in Maputo on 3 March that the most critical situation is on the Limpopo line, which links Maputo to Zimbabwe.

He said that about four kilometres of this line have been submerged and a further four stretches of track are hanging over huge craters opened by the flood waters.

The other two international lines in the south, linking Maputo to Swaziland, and to South Africa, also have some stretches of track either dangling over craters or buried under mudslides.

As for the Limpopo line, Fonseca said that work will start as soon as the flood waters subside, which is expected to happen within the next three weeks. He estimated that the emergency repairs will cost between $7 and $8 million.

Fonseca explained that more substantial rehabilitation would cost much more. He said that, under normal circumstances, the repair of one kilometre of a rail line should cost between $300,000 and $400,000.

Presently, CFM is suffering huge losses. There is no revenue in the system's southern region because of the paralysis of the lines. But the 7,000 workers employed in this region continue to receive their wages.

"So far, we have lost about $4.5 million of what should be our revenue", said Fonseca.

Speaking of damage caused by the cyclone Eline in Beira port, in late February, he said that only one ship, the "Urbai II" was wrecked, near the access channel to the port, and it is hindering the mooring of vessels along about 70 metres of the quay. Otherwise, the port is operating normally.

SA Airforce rescued 6,600 in four days

The South African Air Force helicopters operating in the flood-stricken districts of Chokwe and Chibuto in Gaza province rescued 6,600 people between 29 February and 3 March, according to a press release from the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC).

A total of 39.6 tonnes of humanitarian aid was flown to the accommodation centres at Bilene and Magul, which are housing people who have escaped from Chokwe and Chibuto.

Aid has also now reached flood victims in Govuro and Machanga districts, near the mouth of the Save river. 80 "food kits", two tonnes of grain and 60 boxes of biscuits were flown to these areas.

Rescue operations continue in Xai-Xai

The 400 or so people trapped on the bridge over the Limpopo river at the entrance to the city of Xai-Xai, capital of Gaza province, were rescued on 1 March. Helicopters were used to fly these people to the rooftops of nearby houses. From here they were picked up by Mozambican naval vessels - which contradicts claims made in some western media that the Mozambican armed forces are playing no role in the relief efforts.

This bridge was built so that large boats could pass under it. Under normal conditions it towers five metres or more above the river.

The INGC puts the total number of people affected by the floods in southern and central Mozambique at 1,922,300, of whom over 903,000 need urgent humanitarian assistance. It gives a figure of 229,637 for the people who have lost their homes and all their belongings.

Debate on flood relief in assembly

Calls by deputies of the majority Frelimo Party not to turn the debate on flood relief into an occasion for political polemic fell on deaf ears on 2 March in the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic.

This second day of a debate on the government's report on the floods followed the pattern set on 1 March. Frelimo deputies gave detailed information on the situation in their constituencies, while members of the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition denied the legitimacy of the government, and repeatedly called into question the results of the December general election.

Alberto Sarande, a Frelimo deputy from Manica province gave a district by district account of the damage done by the floods and Cyclone Eline in his province: 26 deaths had so far been confirmed in Manica, he said.

Esau Menezes, from Sofala province, said that of the 270,211 people living in the flood-stricken districts of Buzi, Chibabava and Machanga, 106,535 were "affected" by the disaster, of whom 34,000 had been made utterly destitute. There had been at least 49 deaths in Sofala.

Ana Rita Sithole, from Inhambane province, noted that several suburbs of Inhambane city were still inundated from the passage of Cyclone Eline last week. "In moments like this, we should put aside our differences and prioritise the national interest", she said.

But Renamo had other ideas. Carlos Reis attacked the government for allegedly failing to build up food reserves. In his home district of Milange, "there is food production which we allow to be sold on the other side of the border in Malawi. Our government has never thought about this. They think of everything except the good of the people".

Lucas Figueiredo mocked the Frelimo government's record of high economic growth. He claimed that Mozambique was also "first in the world in drug trafficking, in money-laundering and in organised corruption". He repeated the accusation that emergency aid "is not reaching the people it is intended for, but ends up in the hands of a few".

Luis Boavida specifically rejected calls to work together with Frelimo. "The day when Renamo follows the example of Frelimo, the country will be lost", he declared. "The millions of Mozambicans who voted for our coalition, and whose votes you in Frelimo stole, will be lost".

He alleged the reason why Mozambique had to rely on international support to rescue the flood victims was that "Frelimo wasted millions and millions of dollars on last year's election campaign".

Prime Minister promises transparency

Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi on 2 March assured the Assembly that the government wants emergency relief for the victims of the current flooding "to be distributed in a transparent way and as quickly as possible".

Mocumbi pointed out that any aid which the government receives in the form of money is written into the state budget in a special line of its own. The parliament had passed laws on the budget "and deputies know how the budget is controlled", he said.

A major guarantee of transparency was the fact that donors are directly involved in rescue operations. "Our national and foreign cooperation partners have seats on the Technical Emergency Council", said Mocumbi. "All who give help to the rescue operations are represented there".

This enabled them to follow how their contributions were being used. "The government is interested in clarity on these matters", stressed Mocumbi.

As for NGOs and religious organisations, they were responsible for the distribution of their aid, following the guidelines established by the Technical Council.

Prime Minister Mocumbi added that special customs facilities were in place for all emergency goods, ensuring that they could enter the country without delay.

Referring to a Renamo complaint that it was "undignified" for the government to seek aid from countries such as Malawi, Mocumbi declared "all contributions are welcome, helping us to face the situation we find ourselves in".

"The moments we are living through are not ones for political polemics - they are ones for concrete actions to save lives", said the Prime Minister.

Assembly briefed on flood damage

On 1 March Prime Minister Mocumbi briefed the Assembly of the Republic on the extent of the flood damage. At least 150 people have died in the flooding, and dozens of others are missing, Pascoal Mocumbi told the Assembly.

He said that a definitive death toll could only be given once the waters had subsided, communications could be re-established and it would be possible "to assess with greater precision the number of lives lost in this present disaster".

Mocumbi said that the number of people directly affected by the floods has risen to 900,000, of whom over 300,000 have been displaced from their homes.

The economic losses were enormous. Mocumbi said that over 100,000 hectares of crops have been washed away, and over 40,000 head of cattle have drowned.

The irrigation systems at the towns of Chokwe and Sabie have been destroyed, as have protective dykes at Buzi, Chokwe and Xai- Xai.

The Maputo-Zimbabwe railway is severely damaged, as are many roads, electricity transmission lines, and water supply and sanitation systems.

These problems will lead to increased vulnerability to disease, and to shortages of consumer goods, particularly in those towns and villages which may not themselves have suffered flooding, but have been isolated by the floods. Mocumbi said that about two million people could be expected to suffer these secondary effects of the flooding.

"Intensive rescue missions" are continuing in the Limpopo valley in Gaza province, Mocumbi said, and so far about 9,000 people have been rescued from the flooded cities of Chokwe and Xai-Xai and elsewhere on the lower Limpopo. Some of these people had spent 72 hours trapped by the raging waters before they could be picked up from trees or rooftops.

In Inhambane province, the district of Govuro, on the south bank of the Save river "is 100 per cent affected", said the prime minister. The locality of Jofane, in particular, was "totally isolated" and could only be reached by air.

In Sofala province, on the north bank of the Save, the waters "have invaded all the residential areas of Machanga district". About 500 people had been rescued from Machanga and flown to safety.

Mocumbi said that in Maputo province, where the waters of the Incomati river are now subsiding, the immediate rescue operations were over, and "intensive work is under way to distribute relief goods, including essential medicines".

In Maputo and Matola cities land for housing was being attributed for flood victims, who would be resettled in less vulnerable areas.

Although meteorologists had predicted an abnormally wet southern African rainy season, the scale of the February flooding had been way beyond anything that could have been forecast, said Mocumbi. The floods on the Incomati, Limpopo, Save and Buzi rivers were the largest on record, while that on the Umbeluzi, west of Maputo, "approached its historical extreme".

He added that the government had to rethink its entire economic and social plan for the year 2000, in order to include "the need for urgent rehabilitation of damaged infrastructures, and to restore a normal life to those affected".

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