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Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2007, 18:05 GMT
Floods force Mozambicans to flee
By Karen Allen
BBC News, Mozambique

People on boats
Boats are the only way of getting around

Clutching a tightly wrapped bundle of possessions, around 20 men, women and children scramble to dry land.

They are among the thousands of Mozambicans who have been brought by boat to emergency relief centres, as they flee floods which have forced more than 120,000 from their homes.

Struggling under the weight of a baby on her back is Pascoa Arumando.

She is barely out of her teens and has another two children by her side, fidgeting, tearful and confused.

Their home along the Zambezi river has been drenched by rising water levels, they have lost everything.

"My crops, my home, everything has gone," she said.

Until the waters recede, packed emergency relief camps like the one Ms Arumando has been brought to will be a substitute home.

Makeshift camp

Chupanga is now a destination people are heading for knowing that they will find food and shelter.

Grain being handed out

Previously, it was notable only for holding the remains of Mary Livingstone the wife of the explorer David Livingstone.

Now a makeshift camp has been established there and the numbers arriving are swelling by the day.

In three days the figures rose from 1,500 to more than 4,000.

New arrivals include baby Marta Paulo - born last week, just days after her mother escaped the floods.

Now with growing concerns about the spread of disease, one wonders if she will survive.

Deserted villages

Retracing the journey these people have made, we discover deserted villages upstream.

In Gora, flimsy thatched roof huts are partially submerged with water lapping around the front doors.

Mario Antonio
I know the water level might rise again but what can I do?
Mario Antonio
There is no sign of life apart from a family of ducks nestling on a raised pile of mud, and a stray dog.

With villages now under water, comes the increased threat of crocodile attacks - there have been at least three in the past few weeks.

A soldier stands guard with a rifle as we inspect hastily abandoned homes.

Travelling further upstream, we spot a solitary figure sitting among a cluster of abandoned huts.

Mario Antonio's family has fled, so too have most of his neighbours, but he is insisting on remaining behind.

"I have to stay to tend to the crops - I know the water level might rise again but what can I do?" he asked.

The same dilemma is faced by thousands of Mozambicans.

A sad irony is that the flooded fields alongside the Zambezi river represent some of the most fertile land in the country.

The Mozambican authorities have succeeded in re-settling some communities out of the flood plain after the devastating floods in 2000 and 2001, but many refuse to up sticks and leave.

These are lands passed from father to son, mother to daughter - the only source of income for many here.

Crisis averted

The Mozambican National Institute for Disaster Management, co-ordinating the emergency response, has declared the rescue phase of the operation complete.

The focus is now to ensure that a cholera epidemic does not sweep through the camps.

map

The International Federation of the Red Cross is appealing for $5.8m to prevent what up until now appears to have been a well managed response to a disaster, from turning into a crisis.

Mercifully the casualties this time round have been far fewer than the flash floods seven years ago.

Thirty people have been killed compared to 700.

Relief agencies say that is partly due to the nature of the flooding and early warning systems, activated when heavy rains were forecast in Mozambique and neighbouring Zambia.

In the long term more dams will be needed to break the cycle of floods affecting Mozambique.

It is an expensive investment but a valuable source of hydro-electric power.

It may have been a struggle to convince people to abandon their homes and tens of thousands are virtually destitute, but it seems that lessons of the past have been learnt and a human catastrophe has been averted.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The effects of the floods in Mozambique



SEE ALSO
In pictures: Mozambique floods
19 Feb 07 |  In Pictures
Country profile: Mozambique
28 Apr 05 |  Country profiles

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