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Mozambique Prepares for Worst Floods in 10 Years

Johannes Myburgh

MAPUTO, Jan 20 2011 (IPS) - Flood alert levels are on orange in parts of Mozambique as disaster management services mobilise to respond to flooding potentially as bad as the catastrophe in 2000.

Disaster management volunteer Arlinda Cunah listens for flood and cyclone warnings on her solar-powered radio. Credit:  Tomas de Mul/IRIN

Disaster management volunteer Arlinda Cunah listens for flood and cyclone warnings on her solar-powered radio. Credit: Tomas de Mul/IRIN

Heavy downpours are steadily swelling the Southern African country’s rivers, while authorities watch rainfall and water level indicators in countries upstream with a wary eye.

Some people living in the Limpopo Rver basin in the south of the country have started moving to safer ground after warnings that some 7,000 people could be affected if the river reaches the expected 2 metres above alert levels.

“If it keeps raining, the waters will flood Mozambique,”Mozambique’s National Emergency Operational Centre (CENOE) director Dulce Chilundo told IPS, conceding that flood levels would “probably” reach the same proportions as the disaster in 2000, which killed around 700 people and inflicted damage of 419 million dollars.

Six years later, CENOE was created to streamline authorities’ response during the first 72 hours of an emergency, with $3.7 million dollars at its immediate disposal.


Around a dozen people have died in rainstorms so far this season, but none directly because of flooding, said Chilundo.

“It’s too soon to say” if floods on a national scale will affect all the 1.3 million people at risk according to João Ribeiro, secretary general of the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC).

“The rainy season hasn’t changed. It will only peak in February.”

The combination of local rains and rivers from neighbouring countries could spell trouble. Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa dam is 60 percent full now, but the Zambezi River which feeds it carries water from five other countries along its 2,700 kilometre route. When the Kariba Dam, far upstream on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, opens its sluices on Jan. 22, the increased flow could quickly force Mozambique’s dam operators to do the same.

In anticipation, INGC has moved 24,000 families in the Zambezi basin over the past four years to higher ground. The scheme relocates people’s homes to higher ground, but their farms in fertile low-lying areas, will still be vulnerable.

“The river’s level has already been 6.2 metres [1.2 metres above alert levels], but no intervention was needed because all the families are already higher,” said Ribeiro.

Precautions have reduced Mozambique’s vulnerability in the event of flooding, and disaster management workers, dressed in their bright orange vests, are calm for the moment.

“The different sections are ready to meet the challenge,” says Chilundo. “Up to now, there is no alarm.”

 
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