Mozambique News Agency

Floods update - 2nd March 2001

Zambezi flood: latest situation

Maputo, 2 Mar (AIM) - Despite a warning on Monday by the Zambian authorities that all four floodgates on the Kariba dam on the upper Zambezi would be opened, in fact only two of the floodgates are discharging water, according to Silvano Langa, Director of Mozambique's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC).

Speaking at a Maputo press briefing on Friday, Langa recognised, however, that if the pressure on the Kariba dam wall built up to dangerous levels, then the other floodgates could indeed be opened, which would significantly worsen the current floods on the Zambezi.

The amount of water entering the Cahora Bassa lake in Mozambique's Tete province has now fallen to some 8,000 cubic metres a second: at one point, on 14 February, the inflow into the lake was double this amount, at 16,000 cubic metres a second. Langa said that inflow and outflow from the lake were currently roughly in balance: HCB, the company that runs the Cahora Bassa dam, is continuing to discharge around 8,000 cubic metres a second.

Although this is not as much as had been feared (maximum possible discharge from the dam is 13,500 cubic metres a second), it is quite enough to worsen the flood situation on the lower Zambezi, when added to the water pouring into the Zambezi from its main tributaries, such as the Shire, the Revobue and the Luenha.

Langa said that the number of people affected by the flood crisis had now reached 406,000, and of these 81,000 were displaced from their homes. The known death toll is now 52.

The government has opened 40 accommodation centres for flood victims, and these are currently sheltering about 24,000 people. Many more are expected to enter the accommodation centres in the coming days, as the authorities step up evacuation from the districts of Marromeu, Chinde and Mopeia on the lower reaches of the Zambezi.

The river is continuing to rise, and spill out across the flat flood plains near its delta. The rise is bound to continue in the coming few days, said Langa.

He thought there were still about 100,000 people to be evacuated, most of them from the Marromeu area. This is a huge task: Langa pointed out that in the floods of 2000 in southern and central Mozambique, in the space of four weeks only 52,000 people were evacuated in boats and helicopters. (Although many more made their way to the accommodation centres by their own means.)

Earlier this week rescue operations were hindered by the refusal of people to leave their homes and their land. But as the danger becomes more evident, this resistance seems to be crumbling: on Thursday helicopters rescued 234 people, compared with less than 30 in the previous two days put together.

Langa said attempts have been made to shore up the defences of the two main towns on the lower Zambezi, Luabo on the north bank and Marromeu on the south bank. Thus 1,000 extra sandbags have been used to strengthen the protective dike at Luabo.

But despite this, the government thought the most prudent measure was to evacuate both towns. "We are strongly recommending that everyone leaves Marromeu and Luabo", said Langa.

The mainstay of the Marromeu economy is the sugar mill and plantation of the Mauritian-owned Sena company. Langa said the company management "is still hoping for the best, but it is prepared to evacuate".

Three more South African air force helicopters arrived on Thursday, bringing to 12 the number of helicopters active in the rescue and relief operations (including the two operational helicopters of Mozambique's own armed forces, the FADM).

Three South African fixed wing planes are also available, and a further four, provided by the South African electricity and telecommunications companies, Eskom and SA Telecom, will arrive in the next few days.

Langa said there were reports, as yet unconfirmed, that ten people had died of hunger, in an area of Inhangoma, in Mutarara district, that has been isolated by the flood waters.

Hunger situations arise, he stressed, not because of lack of food, but because of logistical problems in moving it to all the people in need.

Currently the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has over 680 tonnes of food available in the two cities nearest the flood areas - 411 tonnes in Quelimane, and 270 tonnes in Tete.

Elsewhere in the country, the WFP has over 11,000 tonnes that can be used as and when required.

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