Mozambique News Agency

Floods update - 7th March 2001

Storm threatening northern Mozambique

Maputo, 7 Mar (AIM) - A storm in the northern part of the Mozambique Channel is threatening coastal districts in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado.

The storm is currently classified as a tropical depression, but there are fears that it could develop into a cyclone.

According to the National Meteorology Institute (INAM), at 08.00 local time (06.00 GMT) the storm was off the Cabo Delgado coast, and was bringing showers to coastal districts.

The storm is generating winds of up to 56 kilometres an hour, and is moving south at a speed of 26 kilometres an hour.

By Thursday, the storm will be affecting Angoche and Moma districts, in Nampula province, and if it keeps to its current course then at the weekend it will hit the flooded districts of Zambezia and Sofala provinces at the mouth of the Zambezi river.

The storm is affecting shipping in the Mozambique Channel, causing poor visibility and five metre high waves.

The news of a possible cyclone could hardly come at a worse moment. For the flooding on the lower Zambezi is already certain to worsen thanks to increased discharges from the Kariba dam on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border.

According to Silvano Langa, director of the Mozambican relief agency, the National Disaster Management Office (INGC), Kariba is due to open a third floodgate on Wednesday, increasing its discharges from 3,700 to 4,500 cubic metres of water a second.

This water will all pour into the Cahora Bassa lake in Mozambique. Since the lake is already full to capacity, HCB, the company that operates the Cahora Bassa dam, will have no option but to open more floodgates.

Langa added that a team from the Mozambican National Water Board (DNA) is on its way to Lusaka where it will discuss coordination between HCB and Kariba.

Langa had one optimistic piece of news to report - the danger of a major flood on the Save river, which forms the boundary between Sofala and Inhambane provinces seems to have passed.

There had been a sudden rise in the level of the Save - from 3.62 metres on Monday to 5.91 metres on Tuesday - which briefly flooded the town of Machanga near the mouth of the river.

However, the flood surge passed quickly, the waters drained away, and the situation in the Save valley is now reported as calm.(AIM)

Death toll reaches 75

Maputo, 7 Mar (AIM) - The known death toll in the floods in central Mozambique has now reached 75, according to the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Castigo Langa.

Addressing the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic on Wednesday, Langa said that 44 people had died in Zambezia province, 23 in Tete, 4 in Manica and 4 in Sofala. Among the causes of death were the collapse of flimsy houses during torrential rains, and boats overturning in the swollen rivers.

There were now 490,000 people affected by the floods, said Langa, of whom 81,300 had been displaced from their homes.

The floods had forced the closure of at least 183 primary schools, leaving 52,350 pupils without classes.

The minister did not put a figure on damage to crops, merely saying that thousands of hectares had been lost.

Langa noted that the floods had severely damaged the road network, and that several districts (such as Zumbo and Mutarara in Tete, Mossurize and Tambara in Manica and Marromeu, Chemba and Buzi in Sofala) are cut off from the rest of the country.

The ferry across the Zambezi at Caia, a vital link in the country's main north-south highway, has been paralysed for weeks, and Langa warned that ferry crossings can only be restored when the level of the Zambezi drops.

Langa said that the government, in coordination with its international partners, had taken measures to mitigate the flood effects through operations to rescue people stranded in isolated areas, and by "creating minimum conditions for assistance in temporary accommodation centres and other places where the affected people are to be found".

Since mid-January boats and helicopters had evacuated some 8,260 people. Langa said the figure would have been larger had it not been for the reluctance of peasant farmers to leave their homes and possessions.

Logistics had been the main constraint on the relief operations, said the Minister, but thanks to international assistance there were now 21 aircraft available.

Langa pointed out that the rainy season is not yet over, and there remains a risk that cyclones may develop in the Mozambique Channel. He appealed for "continued rigorous observation of the preventive measures recommended to avoid any worsening of the dramatic situation affecting thousands of our fellow citizens".

In particular, it was "fundamental to encourage people to accept the appeals from the authorities to leave dangerous areas and take refuge in the places indicated, since there is a clear danger of further flooding". (AIM)

UN agencies launch flood appeal

Maputo, 7 Mar (AIM) - Six United Nations agencies on Wednesday launched a joint appeal seeking to raise $10.7 million to cover the priority needs of flood victims in central Mozambique.

This is a response by the agencies to the Mozambican government's appeal in late February for $36.5 million to meet emergency requirements. The agencies hope to raise slightly less than a third of the government's appeal.

Those participating in the Inter-Agency appeal are the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).

At the Maputo launch, UN officials stressed that the agencies were not in competition with the government's appeal, but were supporting it.

The agencies hope to raise $2.6 million for logistics and transport, $2.4 million for health needs, and a further $2.4 million for agriculture (ensuring that peasant households who have lost their crops will have seeds and tools to replant).

$1.9 million is for clean water supplies and sanitation, while the rest of the money is required for shelter, education and coordination.

At the press conference where the appeal was launched, Ross Mountain, the UN's Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that both the government appeal and the inter-agency appeal "are for very modest sums".

This was because of the careful contingency plans that had been laid in late 2000, drawing from the experience of the catastrophic floods in southern Mozambique in February of that year.

Food stocks and boats had been put in position well in advance: Mountain said this had made possible "a very quick reaction" to the crisis.

Mountain, who toured the flood-stricken areas over the previous two days, warned that the flooding could worsen. The level of the Zambezi was still rising, and there was a possibility that a tropical depression currently off the northern Mozambican coast might turn into a cyclone.

The most pressing immediate need, in Mountain's view, was for more boats to continue rescue work in the flooded river valleys.

It was true that there were 241 boats left over from last year's rescue operations - but these were mainly small boats of low horsepower, and they were proving unsuitable for use on the Zambezi.

(According to Mozambican relief officials, Portugal and Italy have promised larger, more powerful boats which should be arriving shortly.)

Mountain said he fully agreed with the Mozambican government's decision to evacuate dangerous areas, despite the reluctance of many peasant families to leave their homes and livestock.

He said that the current estimate was that there are still around 50,000 people in the Zambezi valley who are potentially at risk.

Night traffic banned on Beira-Zimbabwe road

Maputo, 7 Mar (AIM - The authorities in the central Mozambican province of Sofala have banned night traffic on a flooded stretch of the Beira-Zimbabwe highway.

The Pungue river has once again surged across the Mutua-Tica stretch of the road, about 60 kilometres west of Beira. The water on the road is not yet deep enough to prevent traffic during the hours of daylight, but, as a safety measure, use of the road after nightfall has been banned.

The administrator of Nhamatanda district, Joaquim Manuel, cited in Wednesday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias", warned that if the Pungue rises much more then the road will be cut definitively.

This would make road traffic from Beira west to Zimbabwe, and south to Maputo, impossible. This is the second time this year that the Pungue has flooded the Mutua-Tica stretch - in mid-February all traffic along the road was halted for a week.

The flooding on the road has already caused serious accidents - at Curral do Pinheiro, 66 kilometres from Beira, two trucks carrying bananas have overturned, and have yet to be removed.

Further north, the level of the Zambezi continues to rise. At Tete city the level of the river rose from 7.06 to 7.3 metres between Monday and Tuesday. The Nhartanda valley, in the low lying part of the city is flooded, and its inhabitants have taken refuge on higher ground.

According to Tete provincial governor Tomas Mandlate, there are still over 1,600 people on Fortuna, an island in the river, awaiting rescue. Rubber dinghies are involved in the relief operations on this part of the river, and Mandlate hopes they would soon be backeD up by an aircraft.

Although the level of the water in the Cahora Bassa lake is slightly higher than the critical level of 326 metres above sea level, the dam itself is still trying to hold the waters back, and is maintaining its discharges at slightly less than 8,400 cubic metres a second.

Marromeu sugar mill under threat

Maputo, 7 Mar (AIM) - The flood on the Zambezi river is now posing a serious threat to the recently rehabilitated sugar mill in the central Mozambican town of Marromeu, reports Wednesday's issue of the independent newsheet "Metical".

According to Anton de Waal, one of the managers of the Sena Company, which owns the mill, if the Zambezi rises much further, it will overwhelm the protective dike that defends the factory, the sugar plantation and the centre of Marromeu town.

The dike is eight metres high: on Tuesday the Zambezi at Marromeu was 7.7 metres high.

$70 million have been invested in rehabilitating the Marromeu mill, which was destroyed by the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels during the war of destabilisation. The mill was due to resume operations at full capacity (100,000 tonnes of sugar a year) next August. Now this major investment is under threat.

So far the flood waters are only affecting 40 hectares of sugar cane that is beyond the dike perimeter. But if the situation deteriorates, the whole of the plantation area will suffer.

De Waal argued that the establishment of a strategic Zambezi River Control and Monitoring Authority would be of great value for local residents and for investors.

"If one thinks of the Zambezi Valley as a potential destination for foreign investment, then I think it is imperative that there should be regular monitoring of the river", he said.

The new authority suggested by de Waal would involve Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. He noted that there had been some cooperation in the past between the managers of the Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams, but that fizzled out a year ago.

"Today there's a minimum of cooperation with Malawi, because of the Shire river (the major tributary of the Zambezi, which enters Mozambique from Malawi), but it's not enough", de Waal said.

Nonetheless, even this minimal level of cooperation was of some value. Thanks to information from Malawi, the Mozambican authorities knew when the major flood surge was coming down the Shire in mid-February, and could time a reduction in discharges from Cahora Bassa, in order to lessen the impact of the Shire flood on the lower Zambezi.

De Waal said that currently there are difficulties in acquiring information about the state of the Zambezi along the entire length of its course. and this makes it difficult to react to crisis situations.

The information chain is very lengthy. De Waal said that, in order to obtain vital information about the behaviour of the river, the Mozambican Agriculture Ministry has to contact the Public Works Ministry, which then contacts the Foreign Ministry which contacts the relevant protocol officials in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which then have to contact their own national authorities, to acquire the key pieces of information.

In winter when the dams reduce their discharges the Zambezi falls so low that sometimes navigation along the lower reaches of the river becomes impossible.

"We need some stability in the river", said De Waal. "If the level of the water rises above 7.5 metres we have the danger of floods. If it falls below three metres, we risk not being able to use the river for transport. We desperately need some coordination to avoid these uncontrolled oscillations". (AIM)

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