Feb 7, 2001

Mozambique / Floods: More coordination with Malawi and Zimbabwe needed

The flood on the Zambezi river is now posing a serious threat to the recently rehabilitated sugar mill

in the central Mozambican town of Marromeu. According to Anton de Waal, one of the managers of the Sena Company, which owns the mill, if the Zambezi rises much further, it will overwhelm the protective dike that defends the factory, the sugar plantation and the centre of Marromeu town.

70 million US dollars have been invested in rehabilitating the Marromeu mill, which was destroyed by the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels during the war of destabilisation. The mill was due to resume operations at full capacity (100,000 tonnes of sugar a year) next August. Now this major investment is under threat.

So far the flood waters are only affecting 40 hectares of sugar cane that is beyond the dike perimeter. But if the situation deteriorates, the whole of the plantation area will suffer. De Waal argued that the establishment of a strategic Zambezi River Control and Monitoring Authority would be of great value

for local residents and for investors. "If one thinks of the Zambezi Valley as a potential destination for foreign investment, then I think it is imperative that there should be regular monitoring of the river", he said.

The new authority suggested by de Waal would involve Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. He noted that there had been some cooperation in the past between the managers of the Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams, but that fizzled out a year ago. "Today there's a minimum of cooperation with Malawi, because of the Shire river (the major tributary of the Zambezi, which enters Mozambique from Malawi), but it's not enough", de Waal said.

Nonetheless, even this minimal level of cooperation was of some value. Thanks to information from Malawi, the Mozambican authorities knew when the major flood surge was coming down the Shire in mid-February, and could time a reduction in discharges from Cahora Bassa, in order to lessen the impact of the Shire flood on the lower Zambezi.

De Waal said that currently there are difficulties in acquiring information about the state of the Zambezi along the entire length of its course. and this makes it difficult to react to crisis situations.

The information chain is very lengthy. De Waal said that, in order to obtain vital information about the behaviour of the river, the Mozambican Agriculture Ministry has to contact the Public Works Ministry, which then contacts the Foreign Ministry which contacts the relevant protocol officials in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which then have to contact their own national authorities, to acquire the key pieces of information.

In winter when the dams reduce their discharges the Zambezi falls so low that sometimes navigation along the lower reaches of the river becomes impossible. "We need some stability in the river", said De Waal. "If the level of the water rises above 7.5 metres we have the danger of floods. If it falls below three metres, we risk not being able to use the river for transport. We desperately need some

coordination to avoid these uncontrolled oscillations" (AIM, Feb 7, 2001).

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