Floods in Malawi, Mozambique Force Thousands to Flee Homes

At least 75,000 people fled their homes because of flooding in Malawi that has claimed 48 lives, washed away bridges and submerged farmland.

The United Nations said about 1,000 people were taken to safety yesterday as rescue efforts were aided by boats from the Malawi Defence Force and better weather. More rains are forecast in the country’s north, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said today in a statement.

President Peter Mutharika declared a state of national disaster and called for international aid. Fifteen of Malawi’s 28 districts have been hit by the rains, and the government has set up emergency operations centers in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, OCHA said. At least 10,000 people in Mozambique and 6,000 in Zimbabwe have also been affected by flooding, according to OCHA.

Five of Malawi’s main roads have been closed, the Blantyre-based Nation newspaper reported today, citing Malawi’s roads authority.

Mutharika’s office said he called off a planned visit to neighboring Mozambique today to attend the inauguration of new President Filipe Nyusi and will visit flood victims instead.

Madagascar could also be hit with a tropical cyclone forming in the Mozambican channel expected to reach the Indian Ocean island tomorrow.

Madagascar Cyclone

“Current high water levels across the country, including around the capital Antananarivo, could exacerbate the impact of the system, which will be named Chedza,” OCHA said today. “Many models are predicting that Chedza will cross Madagascar fairly quickly, only to reorganize itself and move rapidly towards Réunion Island and Mauritius by Jan. 18.”

Malawi is Africa’s top exporter of burley tobacco, a low-grade variety of the crop. Limbe Leaf Tobacco Co., a unit of U.S.-based Universal Corp., Alliance One International Inc. and Japan Tobacco Inc. are among buyers of the nation’s crop. Tobacco accounts for about 60 percent of foreign-exchange earnings.

The heavy rains will curb tobacco production because many farmers are unable to attend their crops, said Reuben Maigwa, the president of the Tobacco Association of Malawi, an industry group.

“The replanting of the crop from areas washed away by the floods might be out of question because most farmers don’t have any more tobacco seedlings,” Maigwa said by telephone from the capital, Lilongwe.

The impact of the flooding on the southern African nation’s economy will depend on how quickly roads and power stations can be restored, according to Edward Chilima, the former president of Economists Association of Malawi.

The “government was pretty quick to declare a state of national disaster,” he said. “That will help open the aid taps.”

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