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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 14:16 GMT
Mozambique: An aid worker's view
Mozambicans are stunned and shocked
Mozambicans are stunned and shocked by the tragedy
By Kate Horne of the charity Oxfam, in Mozambique

From the air, the sheer amount of water is stunning.

It changes in texture and shimmering colours under the midday sun, from earth-red to dirty brown.

It's hard to imagine how traumatic it is

Occasionally this vast sheet swells and moves, where what was once a river continues to pour through.

The tops of trees and thatched huts and ruined maize crops are the only things visible, along with little islands that were once the crests of gentle hills.

"I own a cake shop in town," one man told me, "but I don't know whether it's still there or not."

The man - middle-class by Mozambique standards - had hired two boats to help ferry people out of his ruined town.

"But we don't go down the roads now. We sail over houses. I only know we're sailing over houses because, every so often, there is an aerial poking out of the water."

Traumatic change

Mozambique has changed in a month.

A strong community spirit is holding things together
Suddenly, there are more foreigners, more meetings, more mobile phones.

This used to be a peaceful and quietly hopeful place - even prosperous, especially in the south.

There was a lot of development work being done, slowly but very surely, structures were being put in place and strengthening.

In a sense, the water has washed so much away - I hope not, but this feels like an emergency country again.


The people here are stunned and shocked.

We got away this time, but we may not next time

It's hard to imagine how traumatic it is. I asked a group of women whether they want go back to rebuild their lives:

"No. We won't go back to live there. Maybe we'll build a hut to guard our crops, but not to live. We got away this time, but we may not next time."

A colleague has not heard from his parents who live in Chokwe, a town that was destroyed last week.

chokwe floods
Chokwe's streets can be identified by TV aerials poking out of the water
He is trying to get news and information to and from the area, but he has not heard. He is very anxious.

I spoke to a young boy from Chokwe who came out on foot.

He does not know where his mother and father are. For now, he has lost his entire family.

Media dilemma

The journalists have set up at the Polana Hotel, the plushest in town. It has a swimming pool and beautiful views of the sea.

They have set up satellite links and all have their cameras. It's ironic, and I feel very uncomfortable, talking about such a huge disaster when we're in the middle of such luxury.

It is a big clash between the face of the modern media and global communications and the people of a very remote, very poor, rural lifestyle.

The relative comfort we all have in Maputo contrasts with what we see daily in the flood areas.

I think about this dilemma - journalists taking up space in helicopters that could be used to save a few more people, yet their cameras are so important in showing the world, to get support for a crisis that needs so much support.

But in just a couple of days it has become a real circus.

Today, I watched seven South African helicopters fly in people rescued from roofs and tree tops.

The people ran in single file to safety, and running along in front of them - filming them - were cameramen.

It must be terrifying, being picked up in helicopters from treetops, having lost everything, not knowing where your family are, and running this gauntlet on the ground.

Most of these people do not have television. They do not have electricity.

Community spirit

There are so many people unaccounted for. And so many people who have not found their way to the camps. But the community spirit is there; people are helping.

Many people who were forced out of their homes have trekked across country to be with their relatives, or with people in neighbouring towns.

There has been an overwhelming response from people living in the capital, Maputo.

For the first time anyone can remember a local newspaper has advertised a special account number of a bank into which to make donations.

As we battle against time to rescue and provide aid, we are just hoping that things will continue drying up.

But we have just got the latest weather update and there is another cyclone forecast. We are now expecting Cyclone Gloria.
Kate Horne is Mozambique country manager for the British charity Oxfam
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See also:

01 Mar 00 |  Africa
Mozambique: How you can help
02 Mar 00 |  Africa
Mozambique: A survivor's story
29 Feb 00 |  Africa
Flood aid 'not enough'
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