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Friday, 11 February, 2000, 21:52 GMT
Africa's flood misery

Soweto floods
Soweto's streets have been turned into canals


By BBC News Online's Emma Batha

The freak floods which hit South Africa and Mozambique this week have claimed scores of lives and left more than 100,000 homeless.

Those who have visited the worst-affected regions paint a wretched picture.

Human bodies and cattle carcasses float in the water and many survivors have nothing left in the world but the clothes they stand in.

People have resorted to drinking filthy flood water coursing down the sides of roads because there are no fresh supplies.


Money will have to be diverted from building new houses, to rebuilding those that have fallen down

Dr I B Mkhize, Mpumalanga economics chief
In Mozambique, telephone communications are down and many parts of the capital Maputo are in darkness.

Local journalist Donofacio Manjatee said he did not expect electricity to be restored for several weeks in the suburbs.

''The situation is really very difficult. Many people have lost everything. We have not seen floods like this since the 1950s,'' he said.

''Everything is under water and many, many houses are submerged. Crops and livestock have been lost - you can see the bodies floating in the water.''

Nothing left

In South Africa the torrential rains have wreaked havoc across Northern Province, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

Floods in Mozambique Mozambique is one of the world's poorest countries
Some of the most pitiful scenes have been in the squatter settlements of Alexandra, just north of Johannesburg.

The slums are beside a river running with sewage and two families often squeeze into a space measuring less than nine square metres - but it is all they have.

Some 120 shacks were swept away on Tuesday. But the sqatters have refused to move to emergency shelters for fear of losing their plot of land as well as their home.

The BBC's correspondent Jane Standley said: ''It's heartbreaking. These people have seen their homes washed down the river. They have absolutely nothing.

''They are out in the driving rain trying to salvage bits of corrugated iron that they use for walls and roofs.''

Economy

In Soweto, the narrow streets look like canals. People have been using ropes to haul themselves across the water, but the current is so strong it often drags them under.

Floods in Alexandra, Johannesburg Alexandra township was badly hit
In some rural areas the flood waters are three metres deep and thousands of people are completely cut off.

It is too early to asess the scale of the damage, but officials say the disaster will seriously hurt the economy and set back the country's crucial housing programme.

Dr I B Mkhize, Head of Economic Affairs in Mpumalanga province, said they would need up to 300 million rand (about 30m) just to get the region on its feet again.

Bridges, roads, water pumping stations, electricity stations, schools and homes all have to be repaired or rebuilt from scratch.

But there is no disaster fund and the money will almost certainly have to be diverted from projects intended to ease South Africa's chronic housing shortage.

Kruger Park

The floods are also losing the country important tourism revenue.

Kruger National Park, which borders Mozambique, estimates that its repair bill will come to about 70 million rand (about 7m).

Some 200 tourists had to be rescued from the park this week and it has now been closed.

Alexandra Some squatters have lost everything
Most of the large animals managed to escape to high ground, but some smaller ones like warthogs and springboks are known to have perished.

The floods are expected to cost the park two million rand (200,000) in lost tourism revenue in the next month alone.

Clean water

The rains are still lashing down and have now spread west.

Botswana, a normally arid country, has seen the equivalent of more than half its annual rainfall in just three days.

The floods have claimed 74 lives so far - three in Botswana, 32 in Mozambique and 39 in South Africa. Many were children swept away by rivers that overflowed their banks.

But aid workers fear the real disaster could be about to begin as malaria and cholera spread in the dirty flood waters.

In South Africa, the army is already distributing water purification packs and Oxfam is planning to send out kits and water tanks to Mozambique.

''Clean water supplies are vital in flood situations,'' said spokeswoman Alison Woodhead. ''It's not drowning that causes the high number of deaths. It's disease that's the killer.''

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See also:
11 Feb 00 |  Africa
African deluge set to continue
08 Feb 00 |  Africa
Flood disaster hits southern Africa

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