March 7, 2003

Rainfall lowest for 50 years - Cyclone hits the coast

The US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has warned that rainfall in Maputo in the period October to January was the lowest in more than fifty years. An analysis by FEWS NET found that the current drought is much more severe than last year's, and is similar in severity to the 1991/92 drought.

FEWS NET has issued a warning that a growing number of people are, or about to become, highly food insecure. The organisation points to the more remote parts of Gaza, Tete and Inhambane Provinces as areas of most immediate concern. The situation is at its most critical in areas where crop failure is combined with lack of access to other sources of food and income.

In some remote areas much of the population was already food insecure because of last year's drought. Near total crop failure has led people to resort to extreme measures, including moving to nearby towns - or even across the border into South Africa - taking children out of school, and eating dangerous or unpalatable wild foods.

The warning stated that "a serious deterioration in the food security status of vulnerable populations in southern and central Mozambique is occurring and is expected to worsen over the next twelve months. A near-total crop failure in some zones, following a poor harvest last year, has been the primary cause of the current situation." It added that "Food insecurity is most critical in remote zones where household access to food and income is heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, such as the interior of Gaza and Inhambane and southern Tete. Other contributing factors include human, plant and animal diseases, as well as the economic situation in neighbouring Zimbabwe".

The FEWS NET warning also claimed that malnutrition rates "are likely to increase markedly in the coming year after households consume whatever crops they harvest and exhaust their already weakened coping strategies." The organisation used data from the Maputo rainfall station as it is one of the few stations with good historical data, largely unaffected by war and disasters. An analysis of the rainfall pattern shows that the October to January period has seen the lowest rainfall since modern records started in 1951/52.

FEWS NET points out that the most severe drought in recent memory was the 1991/92 drought. It compares satellite images of vegetative growth between then and now, which show stark similarities. FEWS NET warns of clear parallels between the two seasons, especially for Gaza Province and elsewhere in southern Mozambique.

Ironically, this warning came as Cyclone Japhet hit the coast of Inhambane, bringing torrential rain to much of Inhambane, Sofala and Manica provinces. The rain itself is too late to assist what harvest remains, and has in fact made things worse. The number of known deaths caused by the cyclone now stands at 11, while a further seven people are reported missing in Sofala province, reports Friday's (March 7) issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias". The torrential rains brought by the cyclone have also led to the interruption, since Tuesday, March 4, of traffic along a 2.5 kilometre stretch of the main north-south highway near Muxungue town in Sofala. This has effectively halted toad transport between Maputo and Beira.

Inhambane provincial governor Aires Aly said that only on Thursday, March 6, could assessment teams manage to reach the worst-hit areas, particularly in Vilankulo, Massinga, Inhassoro, and Homoine districts. As for the death toll, Aly expressed fears that this will grow as the brigades gain access to remote areas. "From the reports we have received so far, the most serious damage done was to schools, most of which were left roofless on account of the strong winds", he said. "For instance, at the Massinga secondary school, 17 classrooms were left without roofs. At the moment we need a new reconstruction plan in the education and health sectors".

Aly thanked organizations such as the Mozambique Red Cross, the World Food Programme, and the German NGO Agricultural Action, among others, which are directly or indirectly involved in repairing the damage, for their support.

Fishing is another sector that suffered a serious setback as a consequence of the bad weather. 27 fishing boats, some of which the beneficiaries had received under a programme to encourage small scale fishing in the province, sank during the storm.

As for the break in the main road, "Noticias" reported that many people are still stranded on each side of the break, and they are short of food, blankets, tents, and other essential items. (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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