Southern Africa has been severely affected by heavy rains which started last month in parts of Zimbabwe and are now spreading to other countries including Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland and Madagascar. On Friday The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies released one million Swiss francs (US$ 980,000 / euro 660,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the response of Red Cross societies in affected countries. The situation in Mozambique is particularly worrying. To find out more about the situation, J-L Martinage spoke to Fernanda Teixeira, secretary general of the Mozambique Red Cross Society.
Question: Ms Teixeira, how serious is the current flooding situation in Mozambique ?
F. Teixeira: The situation is very serious in many parts of the country. Flooding is not unusual in Mozambique, however this time it is happening at the very beginning of the rainy season. We might also have cyclones coming up like the one we had last year as the cyclone season is just around the corner. Bearing in mind the pessimistic weather forecast, we are concerned that more people will be affected over the coming days and weeks.
The latest figures from the National Institute for Disaster Management shows that nearly 12 000 families (about 70,000 people) have already been affected and close to 40,000 hectares of farmland are currently under water, which may lead to a food security crisis in the months to come.
Question: How is the Mozambique Red Cross Society responding to the current crisis?
F. Teixeira: We have about five hundred volunteers involved round the clock in rescue operations to evacuate thousands of people using boats and sometimes helicopters. They are also helping to welcome displaced people in shelters set up by the government. Another action is to conduct health prevention activities to warn communities about the potential danger of epidemics due to stagnant waters. So far we have been able to use our contingency stocks and distribute non-food items such as tarpaulins, blankets, mosquito nets and water purification tablets. This is a crucial help for people who lost everything when they finally reach the shelters.
Question: What are your urgent needs and priorities?
F. Teixeira: We certainly need extra funding to run our emergency operation. We have to cover huge geographical areas with trucks, boats and even the helicopters. This is very costly. We also need extra support to help people and welcome them when they get to shelters especially if the situation further deteriorates.
We are also very worried about the health situation. The first cases of cholera have been reported in several provinces including Beira, Maputo and Gaza. These are only isolated cases for the moment. However, we do fear that they can spread in case the flooding situation persists.
Question: Mozambique was already affected by floods in February last year, immediately followed by a cyclone. Now, we have another flooding crisis. Are you worried about these recurrent disasters?
F.Teixeira: These new floods come at a time when many communities were just starting to recover from the previous crisis so I am certainly concerned about what comes next. However, I believe the consequences of the crisis would have been much more serious if we had not done a lot of work on disaster preparedness. As soon as the water levels started to rise, our volunteers told communities to move to higher ground, which speeded up the evacuation process and made it possible to save many lives.
However, we need to do more and this is where we need more resources to increase our disaster preparedness capacities. Of course we need a strong response to the emergency situation but we also need to concentrate on what happens on the medium and longer-term. This means helping people to restore their livelihoods and coping mechanisms. This means training more volunteers and building new health facilities close to the resettlement areas organized by the government for people who can no longer stay in their villages because they are too close to the river. People will only be willing to stay if they have proper health facilities and the Mozambique Red Cross can help with that if we are given more resources to finance new projects.