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MOZAMBIQUE'S TIDES OF MISERY


Under criticism for getting a late start, international aid organizations and several countries are mobilizing a long-term reconstruction effort in flood-and-cyclone-ravaged Mozambique, where new rains continue to hamper relief work.


Eye in the Sky


Officials from South Africa, the United States, Japan, the United Nations, the European Union, and the World Bank will meet in April possibly in Italy to discuss a reconstruction plan that will include other affected areas as well: Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa itself. In the meantime, the United Nations and Mozambique are planning a fundraising drive to finance a six-month interim effort that would address immediate needs, including prevention of cholera and malaria outbreaks.

President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi, whose country was among the first to launch relief efforts, recently welcomed this response of the international community, but joined in criticism that it was too slow in coming. Canadian Secretary of State for Africa David Kilgour earlier had apologized to some South African politicians for what he acknowledged was a late start.

South African President Thabo Mbeki also conceded that the international community's response was delayed. But, he said at the end of an emergency summit of the 14-nation Southern African Development community in the Mozambique capital of Maputo, the severity of the crisis was not immediately communicated to other countries.

MORE RAINS PREDICTED

Planes and some 30 helicopters from several countries are operating continuously, along with trucks and boats, to bring food, water, emergency shelter materials, and medical supplies to isolated communities even as forecasters warn that more heavy downpours are on their way. As many as 10 nations are contributing hardware, money, or supplies.

After four weeks of flooding, almost one million people have been driven from their homes. Relief officials estimate that about 650,000 suffer from hunger. Fighting among individuals desperate for food has erupted at some distribution sites. Many are living without shelter in 74 makeshift refugee camps, forced to sleep in the open under continuing rain.

Some of the most pitiful victims are young children who were separated from their parents during the early, hectic days of rescue efforts, and now are living unaccompanied in the camps. Aid workers are going around taking snapshots in hopes of reuniting them with their families.

Compounding the worries of relief officials is the desire by many of the displaced to return to their homes against the advice of aid workers, who fear more flooding. Many are anxious to see what is left of their homes and to protect their property against widely reported looting and vandalism.

Two Indian Ocean cyclones triggered the flooding of the Limpopo and Save Rivers, widening their banks at some points to 30 miles (50 kilometers). Cyclone Eline, which struck in mid-February, was followed on March 2 by Cyclone Gloria, which though downgraded to a tropical storm still delivered punishing rains. More low-pressure areas following roughly the same tracks are the cause of present predictions for more rain.

The flood waters not only inundated many villages forcing residents to spend days in treetops or on roofs but also isolated them by sweeping away roads and bridges.

Mozambique is not the only hard-hit area. Damage has been caused in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland. UN officials estimate that in Madagascar, the large island country off the coast, 12,000 people are stranded by flooding caused by the same two cyclones. At least 130 have died on the island and nearly 10,000 are homeless, according to government officials.

A wide variety of Madagascar wildlife, including lemurs, also has been spotted floating dead in the invading waters.

DEFORESTATION EQUALS TROUBLE

Any long-range planning will have to take into account what environmental experts say is a chief culprit in this year's catastrophic flooding: deforestation.

Mozambique has experienced the same pattern of deforestation that has turned other areas of the world into barren ground that will not absorb rain. In addition to lumbering, increasing population drives demand to clear forests, often through destructive slash-and-burn techniques, to grow crops and graze livestock. Without forest, the ground loses its absorptive abilities, and rainwater flows freely down watersheds and engorges rivers.

Reforestation, along with taking steps to conserve forests that are still standing, will require extensive planning - and lots of money.

Eye in the Sky is a weekly series that brings you the story behind the headlines using satellite imagery, remote sensing, aerial photography, and maps. This feature is developed by National Geographic News with the sponsorship of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) and Earth-Info. Check out maps and imagery at http://www.earth-info.org.



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More Information
• Roughly twice the size of California, Mozambique lies on the southeast coast of Africa.
• The official language is Portuguese the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975 but many of its 19 million inhabitants speak English.
• After a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992, combined with years of misrule by an inept socialist government, Mozambique in 1994 ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world.
• Subsequent economic reforms gave the country one of the highest growth rates in the world in 1997-98. Regional trade and transportation links, especially with South Africa, have brightened prospects for foreign investment. • Ironically, one of Mozambique's major environmental problems has been desertification. Recurrent drought in the hinterlands contributes to increased migration of Mozambicans to urban and coastal areas.


More Information
Assisted by aircraft, boats and trucks from 10 nations, an armada of international relief agencies are now rushing to the assistance of flood victims in Mozambique. Among them:

  • The United Nations World Food Program is shipping tons of rice, beans, and sugar into remote villages in the flood-stricken areas.
  • The United Nations Children's Fund has begun immunizing children under 5 and women of childbearing age against measles, meningitis, and waterborne diseases.
  • The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, focusing on the prevention of cholera and malaria, is appealing for U.S. $6.8 million to assist 85,000 beneficiaries for seven months.
  • The American Red Cross has set aside U.S. $100,000 for the relief effort in Mozambique and surrounding countries.
  • More than 500 Mozambique Red Cross volunteers are helping provide first aid, food, clean water, and sanitation.