Mozambique has strengthened its capacity to deal with natural disasters, and this is beginning to pay dividends as shown by better planning and greater internal cooperation during the 2007 flooding season.
The Director of the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC), Paulo Zucula, said the country was better prepared to deal with the flooding caused by Cyclone Favio compared to previous cyclones.
Early warning mechanisms and facilities provided to the displaced in the emergency centres created after Cyclone Favio hit in late February have been widely praised.
Flooding in February in the central provinces of Tete, Sofala, Manica and Zambezia killed about 40 people and affected more than 120,000 people. Nearly 90,000 people were evacuated using helicopters and inflatable boats.
It was the worst flooding to hit the country since the 2000 and 2001 floods that killed about 800 people and drove half a million from their homes.
Since then President Armando Guebuza’s government has overhauled its disaster-management system and won praises recently for limiting the number of casualties from Cyclone Favio through its preparedness and early evacuation of tens of thousands of people.
As it became clear that the cyclone was headed for Mozambique, the INGC embarked on an awareness campaign in which it published several adverts in the media informing people about the various stages of alert.
Most of the awareness programmes were carried out in disaster-prone areas along the banks of Zambezi river. This seemed to pay dividends because, although houses were destroyed, the number of victims was considerably lower.
The INGC also ensured that no operation fell outside its control. The INGC worked with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations such as Save the Children, Medicins Sans Frontiers and the Red Cross.
Unlike in the past, the Mozambican government funded most of the relief effort, with support from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) neighbours such as South Africa and Botswana.
WFP provided food to persons displaced by the floods while South Africa donated three helicopters to help transport provisions and to monitor refugee centres accommodating flood victims in the Zambezi Valley.
Botswana donated 11 boats and engines used during rescue missions.
Mozambique needs about US$71 million to rebuild the affected areas after the February floods, according to Zucula. The budget has been presented to Cabinet for approval.
The relief effort was also helped by the unity among Mozambicans who heeded President Guebuza’s plea for assistance by contributing financially and materially towards the relief effort.
The greatest challenge facing the country was how to deal with disease outbreaks.
“I fear an outbreak of cholera,” Zucula said.
There have been more than 700 cases of disease among flood victims in Caia, the worst-hit district in the southern bank of the Zambezi.
Of these, over 300 suffered from malaria, and more than 250 were cases of the eye disease, conjunctivitis. A further 170 people suffered from diarrhoeal diseases.
Droughts and cyclones are cyclical in Mozambique and the SADC region.
There are various factors that contribute to the situation: the El Ninõ phenomenon characterised by weather oscillations that result in either heavy rainfalls or severe droughts; people’s reluctance to abandon flood plains; the lack of better equipment to manage hydrological disasters; as well as low pressure systems that give rise to the formation of cyclones in the ocean.
The lesson that is emerging from Mozambique is that better preparedness can mitigate the consequences of any disaster, and natural disasters such as flooding, which are exacerbated by heavy rains in upstream countries, can be dealt with through greater regional cooperation.