Helena Ozias is one of tens of thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside down by the seasonal floods ravaging southern Mozambique. She and her three children have been driven out of their home in the town of Chokwe and are among an estimated 45,000 people now living on higher ground at Chihaquelane about 20 kms away. A few families have been issued with tents but the vast majority, like Helena and her children, are living out in the open, at the mercy of the elements. Some were able to rescue their cattle and items of furniture but Helena is not among them.
“I was harvesting maize when I heard that the authorities had issued an alert about flooding in our area but I did not think it would happen so quickly”, says Helena, whose husband works in the mines in South Africa . “Then one evening, we heard our neighbours screaming that the water levels were rising. In the middle of the confusion, I only had time to pick up my three children and run away. I left everything behind and my house is now under water."
Stranded on roofs
That was 22 January, the day flood waters overwhelmed Chokwe and Guijá districts in the Limpopo basin, leaving most of the local population in need of evacuation. It was also the day that the Mozambican Government’s Disaster Management Coordination Council declared a red alert in Gaza Province. The flooding has been caused by the unusually high outflows of water from South Africa into the Limpopo and Incomati basins in Mozambique.
By 25 January, the number of flood-affected people was estimated at approximately 65,000 in Gaza Province and as many as 85,000 in the country as a whole. At least three dozen people were said to have died in the floods and countless numbers of people were said to be stranded on the roofs of their houses. On the same day, the Government appealed for assistance to the international humanitarian community in Mozambique which responded immediately, making available their in-country stocks of clean water, food, shelter and other supplies.
Maize and beans
As part of the UN Country Team, the World Food Programme sprang into action with emergency distributions of high-energy biscuits for some 25,000 people followed by distributions of seven-day rations of maize and beans for as many as 60,000 flood-affected people in Gaza Province.
“We're satisfied with the pace of the food distributions in the accessible areas,” said WFP Country Director Lola Castro, following a visit to Chihaquelane. “At this stage, we're providing rations to help the households in the camps while we prepare a follow-up intervention to support them once they've returned home. It will be important to meet their dietary needs while they engage in reconstruction activities."
UN agencies and their partners are collecting and analyzing information about the extent of the disaster. Initial data suggests a minimum of US $15 million will be needed for the whole humanitarian operation.