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Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Mozambique picks up the pieces
Woman and children at shelter
Some people remain in temporary shelters
By Barbara Ikin in Maputo

On the surface, the city of Maputo has returned to normal after the devastating rains and floods in February.

The landslides blocking the streets have been cleared and the worst pot and sink holes have been filled.

Telephones are mostly in working order again; the water supply is functioning, albeit with fluctuating water quality. This is the picture in the high-lying prosperous or "cimento" parts of the city. In the surrounding low-lying "bairros" or poorer suburbs, however, the situation is still very different.

Here streets have been ripped apart by the force of the water and enormous potholes are part of the scenery.


Woman carries baby through the flood
Thousands fled their homes when the floods came
Hundreds of homes, mostly reed and mud houses, are still under water - some are shoulder-deep in dirty, malodorous mud.

Thousands of people have been displaced because their homes have been washed away or buried in the flood's slime.

In some areas drinking water is still being trucked in. Although there has been an increased incidence in cholera and diarrhoeal diseases, the prophesied epidemics have so far not transpired.

Tents

A part of the dislocated population has been relocated onto higher positions, and given a plot of land. People are living in tents and in partially-constructed reed-houses. Those that can, have begun to restore their homes, not waiting for outside assistance.

Whenever a little money is available, a bunch of reeds, a bag of cement or a few bricks are bought and added on. NGOs and government agencies are working in various degrees of co-operation and co-ordination to find ways of resettlement and reconstruction.


Villagers
Mozambicans have shown tremendous resiliance
One of the main challenges is to rehabilitate in such a way so as to avoid the emergence of a culture reliant on handouts and external resources. Local micro-economies in the form of small businesses trading in daily commodities such as building materials, foodstuffs, agricultural utensils and seed, need to be encouraged to engender self-sufficiency.

Markets

The Maputo markets are again stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables, much of it imported from South Africa now that the road to the border has re-opened. Many of the colourful market gardens around Maputo which previously grew such a lush array of lettuce, onions, pumpkins, herbs and tomatoes, were washed away by the floods, and are still under water.


Couple wade through the water
Transport links were badly damaged
After initial surges, prices seem to have stabilised. A brisk trade has begun in market goods from Maputo to the flooded rural areas, spawning a new network of riverine transport.

The main arterial roads to Chokwe and Xai-Xai, north of Maputo, have been temporarily repaired after months of being cut off, but it will take a year or more to rebuild the bridges and reconstruct the permanent roads.

The de-mining programme is being reassessed - already the first reports have come in of landmines having been carried into previously cleared areas.

Communications broken

Communications are still chaotic. In many cases people living in Maputo still have had no word from relatives living in the disaster areas.

As the floodwaters subside, so the dislocated population returns to its towns and villages.

I have before me the poignant picture of a woman carrying her possessions on her head, and her baby on her back, wading into the swirling brown water of the distended Limpopo River. After 50 metres she suddenly stepped into a hole, submerging her baby, and losing the bundle on her head.

Fortunately she and her baby were saved by a bystander, and brought back to shore. She was desperate to return to her village and link up with her family, but could not afford to hire the boat.

The resilience and determination of the victims is amazing. Within days there was small trading in the tented refugee camps: Piles of bush-fruit, firewood, spare clothing and commercial goods being sold on the side of the road.

Immense task

While the total official figure of the damage is being estimated, it is clear that the reconstruction work facing Mozambique is immense. Direct aid will have to be given to those who have lost everything, including their standing crops.

They will need implements and materials to clean and rebuild their houses. They will need clothes and food until they have an income, and they will need tools and seed to cultivate their fields when the water has receded.

Three months later people are breathing more easily because the worst of the rainy season is over. Days are shorter, the humidity and temperatures have dropped, the water levels are slowly sinking. Going home means beginning the rehabilitation and reconstruction which will enable the return to a normal daily life.

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See also:

03 May 00 | Africa
Mozambique plans recovery
28 Feb 00 | Africa
Long task ahead for aid workers
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