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The BBC's Greg Barrow in Maputo
"The biggest challenge to aid agencies is preventing people from returning to their villages too soon."
 real 28k

Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 11:58 GMT
Rain slows relief effort
Boys fishing in flooded field near Chokwe
People are anxious to return to their homes
Two days of heavy rain have disrupted the distribution of food to flooded communities in central Mozambique.

The main road from the port of Beira to the small town of Save has again been cut. Helicopters were called in on Tuesday to rescue 30 people and sacks of food from vehicles trapped on the road by flood water.

A spokesman for the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) said there was enough food in the area to meet the needs of the population, but conditions were making it difficult to reach them.

Further south, in Gaza, roads have been re-opened and lorries have been delivering large amounts of food.

But aid workers are finding it difficult to persuade people not to return to their villages until living conditions have been restored.

Survivors are threatened by disease and malnutrition
The WFP says people are anxious to return to their homes to plant their seeds, which must be planted before April if they are to make the next harvest in September.

Disease and hunger are threatening many survivors now and thousands of people have contracted malaria in the crowded refugee camps from the swarms of mosquitoes breeding in the stagnant floodwaters.

Food drops

In Madagascar relief efforts are now focusing on the east coast, with the French military planning food drops to help tens of thousands of people stranded there.

A C160 aircraft, which can carry seven tons of food, is due to fly to the coast on Thursday and drop food by parachute over devastated areas.

The WFP has flown 25 tons of food to the north-east of the country, but rainy weather and a shortage of fuel at the airport in the north-eastern town of Sambava has hindered relief efforts.

The floods have destroyed 90% of farmers' rice fields and all the crops, said Jennifer Overton, a regional health officer.

Legacy of debt

Southern African leaders met in the capital Maputo on Tuesday to call for the cancellation of all of Mozambique's foreign debt to enable the country to rebuild.

Western donors have already pledged at least $150m towards reconstruction but the government estimates the total cost at more than $250m.

There was discussion of setting up an early warning system that could prepare countries for flooding on this scale. One idea is that countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa could do more to manage the flow of water down rivers running into Mozambique.

Further rain could still trigger more flooding in low-lying areas. Weather forecasters are predicting three more days of rain over flood-ravaged central and southern Mozambique.

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See also:

08 Mar 00 | Africa
Mozambique's devastated economy
01 Mar 00 | Africa
Mozambique: How you can help
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