When the floods fall, epidemic risk will climb

Torrential rains have been falling throughout southern Africa since early February. Severe flooding has followed in several areas but it is Mozambique, the poorest country in the region, that has been most severely affected by this disaster. The is mainly because the rivers that drain the downpour to the Indian Ocean pass through Mozambique.

The risk of epidemics is still high and will increase as soon as the water levels start to fall. Cholera, which hit Mozambique very hard during the last years, has to be anticipated. MSF currently reinforces the capacities of the Ministry of Health to prevent and/or control possible cholera epidemics. In addition MSF has already installed four cholera treatment centers in Maputo and Matola where first cases have been confirmed.

MSF has been assisting the Mozambique Government with the management of this emergency from the beginning on the weekend of February 5,6, 2000.

It was the second wave of flooding last weekend (Feb 26-27) that worsened the situation considerably. The provinces of Gaza, Inhambanne and Sofala are the hardest hit as all the rivers there have burst their banks and the excess water has flooded thousands of acres.

The rise in water levels has been extreme. The Limpopo River, which was almost dry just a week ago, is now 15kms wide and ranges in depth from five to 11 meters. Flooding was inevitable.

Currently over 1,000,000 people are directly affected by the flood waters - leading to an estimated 300,000 displaced. Many of the displaced are completely isolated with no food or clean water, health care or shelter.

MSF is currently working in two of the most affected provinces, Gaza and Inhambanne.

CHOKE CITY

The immediate threat in Chokwe was of pressure on a dam further upstream of the Rio des Elefantes. There was concern that the dam could burst at any time, given the pressure on it. However the threat has decreased in the past 24 hours.

However the situation for the population there remains catastrophic. Over 25,000 people are stranded on rooftops. MSF is the only NGO currently active there. However there is a lack of resources necessary to carry all the people to safety in a reasonable time.

MSF is distributing food and potable water in Chokwe to the stranded and providing medical care when necessary. However the reality is that the population must be treated where they are and then left to await rescue. The intention is to ensure the ability to wait rescue, knowing that they may remain stranded for a few more days.

This operation was selected as it was logistically impossible for MSF to undertake the evacuation of the stranded population.

Where possible, MSF is organising rescues operations as well and are evacuating as many people as possible by boat. There are three MSF Zodiac boats already there and another 12 are expected to arrive by Saturday, increasing MSF presence and ability to transport the stranded to safety.

Macia

The MSF transit camp has a current population of 5,000 displaced. Another 10,000 are staying with host families in Macia.

Another 15,000 people in Chakalan are in an unsafe area and MSF is trying to persuade them to move to Macia.

Macia is increasingly being identified as the centre of displaced and is preparing to receive more displaced in the coming days. Most of the people being rescued in Chokwe will likely be delivered to the Macia camp. The camp is on higher ground and is safer from flooding should the water begin to rise again.

Xai-Xai

In Xai-Xai, the urgency in terms of flooding is somewhat less and should remain as such. The World Food Programme is delivering approximately nine tons of food each day, but this is not enough to fed the entire population.