Flood stricken Mozambique braces itself for more water

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2000

PALMEIRA, Mozambique (AP) - Heavy rains Friday filled rivers in Zimbabwe and South Africa to overflowing, meaning a fresh wave of misery was headed downstream for flood-weary Mozambique.

Relief workers, already struggling to feed stranded victims, may not be able to cope when more floodwaters pour into this southeast African country, which lies along the Indian Ocean.

President Joaquim Chissano spoke of frustrations in trying to get aid to thousands in a country where many bridges and roads have been washed out, leaving some areas accessible only by air.

``We may have many more people who are not reached because the means we have to transport are very scarce,'' Chissano told journalists.

Adding to the nation's woes, the floodwaters have given rise to clouds of malaria-carrying mosquitos. Chissano said medicine was urgently needed. Doctors said conditions were right for an epidemic.

The new flooding came on top of weeks of rains and a cyclone that have left hundreds of thousands homeless and at least 70 people dead in Mozambique, and dozens more dead in South Africa and Zimbabwe to the west.

The Limpopo River that divides South Africa and Zimbabwe burst its banks Friday, flooding the main border post at Beitbridge and halting traffic between the two countries.

Zimbabwe's minister of transport and energy, Enos Chikowore, resigned Friday, saying he had been unable to stop a fuel shortage that is growing critical because of the floods.

The Limpopo Valley downstream in southern Mozambique is expected to bear the brunt of the fresh surge of water next week. Officials flying over the valley used loudspeakers to urge people to higher ground.

The main access road linking the capital of Maputo to Xai-Xai, the capital of the neighboring Gaza province, has been severed in five places. Near Palmeira, a small village about 60 miles north of Maputo, dozens of people waded across a river en route to Maputo after a bridge washed away. They complained of fuel shortages and spiraling food prices.

Jose Santos, who carried three empty cans he planned to fill with gasoline, had been walking for several hours from his home village.

``People are suffering,'' he said.

Georgia Shaver, regional manager of the World Food Program, said 100 tons of food has been delivered to flood victims.

``We are reaching about 100,000 people. The number of people who need food might be higher,'' she said.

Officials appealed for $65 million for humanitarian assistance and infrastructure repairs.

Since a 15-year civil war ended in 1992, Mozambique's economy has boomed. But the vast majority of the former Portuguese colony's 19 million people remain impoverished. The bulk of flood victims were subsistence farmers or the unemployed.

Italy has said it will send $5 million, and a coalition of aid organizations is calling for the cancellation of Mozambique's foreign debts. The group says Mozambique is currently being forced to pay $1.4 million a week in interest.

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