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Mozambique Prepares for Dangerous Cyclone Giovanna

MAPUTO, Feb 16 2012 (IPS) - Over 100,000 people in Mozambique are still recovering from losing their homes and crops, and from being cut off from schools and shops after a tropical storm and cyclone hit the southern African country in January. But the worst may not be over as another dangerous cyclone is expected to make landfall Friday evening as emergency stocks run low.

Drainage systems in Mozambique’s capital Maputo struggle to cope with rivers flowing into the city and high rainfall that leave streets flooded. Credit: Johannes Myburgh/IPS

Drainage systems in Mozambique’s capital Maputo struggle to cope with rivers flowing into the city and high rainfall that leave streets flooded. Credit: Johannes Myburgh/IPS

Cyclone Giovanna, equivalent to a category four hurricane – the same intensity as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the United States in 2005 – hit Madagascar over the weekend, leaving 65 people dead and 11,000 people homeless. It is expected to strike southern Mozambique on Feb. 17 with maximum speeds of 100 to 150 kilometres per hour.

“As the tropical cyclone approaches Inhambane, we are expecting a high risk of damage for some districts around Inhambane town,” said Sergio Buque, Mozambique’s National Institute of Meteorology’s chief forecaster.

The storm will also affect several other areas including Zavala, Morrumbene and Massinga in Inhambane province.

The country is still recovering from the death of 40 people when two storms struck in close succession mid-January. This year’s death toll is already more than last year’s tally of 30.

“A total of 108,048 people have been affected by tropical storm Dando and cyclone Funso,” said the United Nations Humanitarian Country Team (HCT).

Lola Castro, head of the HCT, said preparations for the cyclone season began in October last year but already stocks are running low because of January’s storms.

“Unfortunately at this moment the stocks we have in the country of different items are getting lower because we had to (provide aid) to the Southern Provinces and Zambezia,” she said.

Basic items, like plastic sheeting for houses, are need.

“Also, equipment for water and sanitation because the latrines were destroyed so people need to use chlorine to make sure that the water does not contain water borne diseases. “We are also looking for seeds … be it rice, beans or maize,” Castro said.

This year almost 98,000 hectares of crops were destroyed in January.

Giovanna is expected to make landfall as the World Food Programme plans to give emergency food to 83,424 people affected by January’s storms, half of who have already received some nutrition.

“Distributions have been completed in Nicoadala and Manganja da Costa, and are ongoing in Chinde and
 Pebane (in central Zambezia province) and Maputo province,” the HCT told IPS in a written response to questions.

“Each family received or will receive 50 kilogrammes of maize for one month.”

In January, Cyclone Funso reached category 4 intensity, however, it veered away from the mainland and struck in the Mozambique channel southeast of central city Beira.

At the time torrential rains kept residents in Maputo indoors and the capital’s waterside was swamped as drainage systems struggled to channel the waters to the sea.

Incessant rains in neighbouring countries also drove up river levels flowing into Mozambique. The Komati River flooded, washing away 50 metres of Mozambique’s main North-South highway, the EN1, 100 km north of Maputo. For a few days the vast country was cut off from its capital by road and the United States issued a travel warning to Americans until the road was reopened on Jan. 24.

Though the two storms affected thousands, the situation was not as devastating as 2009, when two tropical storms hit the country’s central coast and left over 520,000 people dependent on food aid.

Still, Mozambique is the only African country dangerously vulnerable to natural disasters, it was announced last year during the U.N. climate change talks in Durban, South Africa.

In the last two decades Mozambique suffered 50 extreme weather conditions, which cost it 1745 lives, and 96 million dollars in total, delegates at talks were told.

The Southern African country scored 19th in terms of death and losses relative to its population size and GDP from flooding, drought, heat waves and severe storms from 1991 to 2010, according to the Global Climate Risk Index (GCRI), an NGO based in Germany.

However, Mozambicans, most of whom are subsistence farmers with low-lying crop fields, are still utterly at the mercy of the forces of nature.

“People always will be affected due to natural disasters in Mozambique, as it is a disaster-prone country, but if warned on time the level of the crisis can be minimised,” said the HCT.

“The numbers of affected populations has been reducing over the last 12 years. The disasters may augment due to climate change, however Mozambique is becoming more and more equipped to prevent and respond to those events.”

The country’s National Disaster Management Institute was announced the best national disaster management body last year by the U.N.-managed forum, Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“Now, 12 years since the floods of 2000/2001, the scale of damage to both infrastructures and civilians has been vastly reduced as a result of contingency planning, preparedness activities and investment in early warning systems,” Castro told IPS.

Buque said that people have already been alerted to Friday’s impending storm.

“We are now disseminating information to the people about the areas of risk and what they have to do. They also have to follow the update of information from the disaster management authority, water authority and even from community and local government,” he said.

The central and provincial authorities have trained community disaster preparedness groups to help people evacuate their homes in case of floods or storms.

Castro said that although Mozambique is better prepared for the hurricane season, more could be done to ensure that there is less devastation.

“The decentralised level authorities require more equipment and more training. They also require boats, which could help them evacuate populations in case they become isolated. Also, the use of radio to disseminate information using local languages will mean less people are affected,” she added.

The tropical storm season is expected to last until March and Buque said the National Institute of Meteorology are on the alert for more storms.

“We are still expecting more tropical storms to come but we are not sure if they are going to reach us or not,” Buque said.

*Additional reporting by Zukiswa Zimela in Johannesburg.

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