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The BBC's David Shukman
"Authorities believe evacuation is the only option to escape"
 real 56k

Friday, 2 March, 2001, 15:00 GMT
Mozambique: Prepared but overwhelmed
Helicopter resuces Mozambican
Rescue efforts combine local and international expertise
By Joseph Hanlon, co-author of a new book on last year's Mozambique floods

As floodwaters rise on the Zambezi, Mozambique's navy has picked up more than 8,000 stranded people using rubber boats donated by the international community for last year's floods.

This is the second year of major flooding, and a similar pattern is emerging.

Both this year and last year, predictions of heavy rain led to flood warnings and extensive preparation by the Mozambican government, local non-government organisations such as the Red Cross, and United Nations agencies such as the World Food Programme.

Man and woman wading through floods
Last year's floods destroyed thoudsands of peoples lives
But Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and record-breaking floods soon exhaust the capacity of the government - and of neighbouring countries.

International help is needed to provide fuel for the boats and helicopters, and to provide tents, food and clean water for the tens of thousands who are forced to flee to high ground.

Media images

Dramatic television pictures and appeals for help by international agencies tend to present a picture of helplessness.

But they miss the extensive preparation and organisation which had already been done at local level.

Research for my book on last year's floods pointed to three months of preparation, which provided an essential foundation and infrastructure for the massive international support.

Local input

The result was remarkably successful international cooperation, with human, material and financial international aid providing vital help to the Ministry of Health, Red Cross and local government who were already in action dealing with huge numbers of displaced people.

People awaiting evacuation
People are desperate to find somewhere safe
One improvement on last year is an increased participation by the Mozambican military.

Last year the Mozambican military rescued 17,000 people, but with very few boats and no helicopters. This year, the boats donated by the international community for last year's flood were put to use quickly.

Mozambique's air force has only two helicopters, but this year, because of the advance warnings, both were serviced and ready to fly, and are now in use for rescue and reconnaissance.

Rescue efforts

In the same way as last year, many people are currently refusing to abandon their homes and cattle even though they are being given adequate warning.

As the water rises, some of these need to be rescued.

But the South African helicopters and planes now arriving in Mozambique will mainly be used to get food and other supplies to the tens of thousands of people forced to flee to high ground.

In many cases they are camped in places totally cut off by floodwaters from access by road and can only be supplied by air.

With a record flood in a very poor country, international help is essential. But that help is only effective because of local organisation.

"Mozambique and the Great Flood of 2000" is available from James Currey Publishers, at 11.95 (about $18) plus postage.
Contact or or phone +44 (0)1865 24 64 54.

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