Residents flee as heavy rains hit South Africa

Published: 25 March 2014 10:40 CET

Hansika Bhagani, IFRC

When heavy rains hit the northwestern parts of South Africa in early March, few expected it to cause the devastation it has now inflicted. One of the worst affected areas is Limpopo province, where the rains fell for more than two weeks causing extensive flooding and landslides. Over 7,000 people in the Waterberg district of the province have had their homes flooded, belongings washed away and farms destroyed.

In the town of Lephalale, 3,525 people are now living in makeshift evacuation centres. Community halls, primary schools and a day care centre are now housing these families until their homes can be reconstructed, roads rehabilitated and livelihoods restored. To assist the South Africa Red Cross Society in supporting the most vulnerable in the evacuation centres, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has released 165,035 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund. The funds will be used to support 705 families over the next two months with hot meals, household items including blankets and mosquito nets, health education and hygiene promotion.

George Mamabolo, Provincial Manager of the Limpopo branch of the South African Red Cross Society says this support will be vital to the displaced families. “We had floods before in 2008, and what we’re finding is that people are still affected emotionally. Because people have long memories, everybody was really scared when it started raining and they all ran to the community hall.”

For Mamabolo, preventing water-borne diseases is a key concern and is one that is shared by the evacuated residents. “We have a lot of people in the community hall and a lot of children,” he says. “There are also a lot of mosquitos and there is a definite fear of getting malaria.”

Overcrowding in the temporary shelters has raised fears of the spread of communicable diseases like cholera due to constraints in accessing safe and clean water. Red Cross volunteers will help with hygiene promotion, distributing key messages on malaria and cholera prevention, and handing out hygiene kits for adults and children.

“People are really affected by the situation,” adds Mamabolo. “They would love to go back to their houses but there is an expectation of more rain. We have to make sure that before people return, that it is safe to do so. Hopefully, within three to four weeks, families will be able to return home.”