January 24, 2007

Angola, Mozambique and Zambia severely hit by heavy rains

Steady rainfall is hindering mopping-up operations after widespread flooding in Southern Africa. Relief work was being hampered by bad weather in the area where Luanda, the Angolan capital, is located, while preparations for dealing with an anticipated rise in cholera cases got underway. Flash floods in the past week claimed the lives of 57 people, and an undisclosed number have been reported missing. In the Cacuaco municipality, north of Luanda, the area worst-hit by the flooding, some neighbourhoods were inaccessible after a bridge was washed away and roads became dangerous.

The rains are being blamed on El Nino, the periodic appearance of unusually warm water in the eastern Pacific that often occurs in December and affects normal weather patterns.
"If the phenomenon of El Nino continues, people run the risk of losing their homes. The rains are forecast to continue until March, and we don't know how strong they will be," Jesus Herrera, a representative of the Spanish branch Medicos del Mundo has explained. "There is a problem of poverty and lack of basic sanitation. Homes here are constructed ... [near] the sea and rivers and with poor materials that can be easily destroyed with water," he continued.

About 70 percent of Luanda's population of more than four million people are said to be at risk from the flooding. "But it's a whole series of problems that could lead to a wider humanitarian problem - we have the floods, the destruction of homes, lack of access, communication and with these conditions, diseases like cholera can rise," Herrera said. Angola was already battling a cholera epidemic before the flooding began.

The heavy rains in Mozambique, which brought extensive flooding to Quelimane, capital of the central province of Zambezia, have temporarily abated. About "1.500 households have been seriously affected", with homes, property and crops destroyed. Some 672 families, for example, in Nicoadala district in the central part of Zambezia, are now living in temporary shelters or in the open as a result of the River Licaure bursting its banks. In other parts of the province, such as Mopeia district, the full extent of the damage is still unclear because of the continuing impassability of roads due to high water levels and localised flooding.

Emergency relief teams have been on high alert because rain has filled the Cahora Bassa dam to capacity and the sluice gates may be opened, allowing more water to flow into the Zambezi river, which is already above the flood alert level. Communities in the district of Mopeia, on the Zambezi River, were particularly vulnerable. Emergency relief kits with blankets, water containers and water purification tablets have been prepositioned in the district.

In Zambia, authorities and aid agencies have stepped up measures to avert possible outbreaks of waterborne diseases and assist flood victims. Torrential rains swamped at least 21 of the country's 73 districts; many bridges, roads and crop fields in the affected areas remain submerged. "While it is true that some people have been displaced after the floods completely washed away their houses, the situation is still manageable, as we have already started assisting the victims with food and other requirements. But we can't tell, just as yet, how many people genuinely need shelter," Bernard Namachila, permanent secretary in charge of the government's Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, said.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Canisius Banda said, "We have activated our epidemic preparedness committees and they are now helping in carrying out health education, surveillance, distribution of free chlorine for water treatment, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets, since the waters may become breeding grounds for malaria parasite-carrying mosquitoes." "So far we have not received any cases of an outbreak of waterborne diseases or rampant malaria cases from any of the affected areas."

The Zambian government has not approached the World Food Programme (WFP) for assistance, but spokesperson Jo Woods confirmed that the UN agency had received calls for assistance from people in affected districts. (Rts)

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