Aid Teams Overwhelmed by Worst Mozambique Floods Since 2000

Rows of white tents stand in two adjacent camps on the outskirts of Mocuba in central Mozambique. They are hastily erected refuges from the nation’s deadliest floods in more than a decade.

The tent-towns’ occupants drape washing on lines strung between poles and cook cassava on charcoal stoves, waiting for the waters to subside so they can return home. Scores more displaced people mill about, hoping to be granted a place on registers entitling them to shelter and food from the United Nations, Mozambique’s state disaster management agency and aid groups that run the camps. Relief workers have been swamped by demands for help.

“I have been here for two weeks with my three children, sleeping outside,” Anabela Domingos, 30, whose home was washed away, said on Jan. 30.

About 150 Mozambicans have died in the floods, 51,000 have fled their homes and 157,722 have lost their livelihoods or crops, government and UN data show. Large tracts of Mozambique are low-lying areas prone to flooding and the current devastation is the worst since 2000 when about 800 people died.

The floods have strained the transport infrastructure in the southeast African nation and posed an immediate challenge to efforts by a new government led by President Filipe Nyusi, who was sworn in last month, to reduce poverty. The World Bank estimates some 61 percent of the population live on $1.25 a day, compared with an average of 47 percent across sub-Saharan Africa.

Madagascar, Malawi

Flooding, torrential rain and cyclones have also killed 176 people in Malawi and 68 on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar.

The area around Mocuba, on the southern bank of the Licungo River in the central Zambezia Province, has been among the hardest-hit in Mozambique. Relief efforts have been frustrated by the collapse of a bridge that severed the main highway and halted road deliveries north of the river.

“The central and northern regions of the country are still recording moderate to heavy rains,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a Feb. 2 e-mail. “Logistics remain a serious challenge, especially air operations. There are also still significant gaps” in the provision of food, sanitation and shelter.

Azoro Liberto, 25, and her four children were among those granted a tent and cooking utensils in a Mocuba camp. Food aid is doled out intermittently and the family goes days without eating, she said.

Singing, Hopscotch

Makeshift stalls have sprung up alongside the camps selling fish, cigarettes, gin, candles and powdered chicken stock. Care for mothers from the camps with babies is provided at a clinic staffed by nurses.

The desperation of those in the camps hasn’t turned into crime or unrest, said Passimo Wilson, a sergeant operating a police post. “The only trouble here is the rain,” he said.

A group of young girls living in a camp established by charity World Vision occupied themselves singing and dancing atop an abandoned trailer, while others played hopscotch on grids drawn in the dirt. In the adjacent camp, a teacher wearing a blazer, jeans and rubber sandals stood watch over a group of about 120 children singing under a tree.

The situation is even worse in villages north of the Licongo river, said Agustinho Joao Alvar, 29, who left his home in the area at 3 a.m. on Jan. 30 for a journey to town to buy food.

Response ‘Inadequate’

“There is nothing on the other side,” Alvar said as he waited in line with about 120 people to be ferried back across the muddy waterway in a boat operated by the Mozambican navy.

Manuel de Araujo, the mayor of Zambezia’s administrative capital, Quelimane, and a member of the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement, said the response to the flooding was inadequate and greater efforts were needed to secure international aid.

“They are doing a lot, but it’s still not enough,” he said. “People are concentrating in Mocuba, because all the focus is now on Mocuba. I was in Nampula last week and in Pemba. Those cities are almost dead, without electricity. People are really suffering.”

Pasquale Capizzi, the head of UN Habitat in Mozambique, said the government disaster management agency has learned from previous floods.

Some areas are only accessible “by boat or by helicopter,’ Capizzi said in a Jan. 29 interview. ‘‘Items are going there, food is going there, never enough of course, but we’re still missing proper shelter, distribution. The helicopters don’t have capacity for large loads so you’ve got to do many round trips.”

About 200 flood victims camping at the village of Furquia, northeast of Quelimane, say they can’t wait for aid distribution glitches to be resolved.

“We haven’t eaten properly for five days,” said Argentina Antoni, 40, who had been sleeping outside for three weeks with her four children.

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