Red Cross National Societies braced for new Southern Africa flood emergency

Published: 9 January 2008 0:00 CET

National Societies in Southern Africa and the International Federation’s zone office in Johannesburg were Wednesday braced for a new flood emergency involving at many as six countries: Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Early seasonal rains, possibly made heavier by climate change and the current La Niña in the Pacific, have pushed rivers above danger level in many places and some areas are already flooded.

The government in Mozambique has declared a red alert, according to news reports, and six people are now believed to have died there.

Zambia and Zimbabwe have also been badly affected by encroaching floods over the past month, and the BBC reports that 21 people have died in these countries together.

Task force

A meeting earlier this week in the Zimbabwe capital, Harare, of a special Red Cross task force heard that the latest floods in the region had escaped widespread media attention because of the crisis in Kenya.

The International Federation will also shortly release 500,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support National Societies in affected countries. Emergency funds had already been sent to Zimbabwe in December.

The Harare meeting reported that a flood alert was raised in the Chipinge area of Zimbabwe at the end of December. All the houses in one village had been washed away and 200 families had been assisted with various relief materials.

In Muzarabani the weather had improved, water levels were down and roads passable; in Tsholotsho there had been heavy rain but no flood alert as yet.

The situation in other parts of Zimbabwe was still not clear.

Communications equipment comprising laptops, satellite phones and VHF radios is on its way to the region from Geneva, but other disaster stocks are low.

“Substantial impact”

The recent history of Mozambique, especially, subjected African flood preparedness and response to one of its severest tests.

Floods in the centre of the country a year ago killed 45 people and left more than a 250,000 homeless, while Cyclone Favio last February displaced another 140,000. This was the worst flooding to hit Mozambique since 2000–1 when some 700 people drowned and many thousands were displaced.

The Mozambique Red Cross flood preparedness programme, evolved since the disaster nearly a decade ago, now includes the identification of escape routes and an alerting system based on radios and whistles.
“We are greatly concerned at the emergency responses this early in the rainy season,” Kelly David, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Southern Africa, told Reuters news agency.

“If this continues, we can expect a substantial impact.”