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Emergency response to flooding

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A week of heavy rain has severely flooded parts of Mozambique. On 25 January 2013 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sent a team to Gaza province and launched an emergency response in the city of Chokwe, 225 km north of the capital. Lucas Molfino, MSF’s medical coordinator in Mozambique, is just back from Chokwe.

The Limpopo river flowing from South Africa swelled after several days of heavy rains and flooded Gaza province in Mozambique. It’s the worst-hit province in the country. More than 140,000 people have already been displaced from their homes. They are shocked. Most lost everything when they fled.

MSF decided to go straight to Chokwe because we knew the situation was dire there. Some areas were under 1.5 metres of water. Houses and buildings had collapsed, and in some places the electrical system was destroyed. Now people are slowly coming back to their houses to see what is left.

Road to Guija. The floods in Mozambique forced 150,000 people to leave their homes behind.
Road to Guija. The floods in Mozambique forced 150,000 people to leave their homes behind.

We set up a health post in the compound of Carmelo hospital, the only health facility that was still functioning. In two days our team has already carried out 400 consultations. We are treating people who were injured in the floods, and we are also making sure that patients with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) are getting their drugs to ensure their treatment is not interrupted. Gaza province is one of the highest HIV-prevalent areas of the country, so it is key to keep patients on antiretroviral medicine. Some of them lost their medical files and don’t remember which drugs they take. It can complicate the continuity of treatment, but at the same time the patients are coming straight to us for guidance, which shows their remarkable commitment to their health.

Fortunately the hospital had received its monthly supply of antiretroviral drugs the week before the floods. The boxes were still sealed and the drugs were intact. We’ve got enough supplies for the coming weeks.

We are also distributing supplies for TB patients from Carmelo hospital, so that patients don’t stop their treatment, which can quickly lead to drug resistance.

Chiquelane camp is hosting approximately 40,000 people from Chokwe city and at the moment there is a clear lack of safe water and decent sanitation. For the moment the situation remains ok, but we need to monitor closely the cases of water-borne diseases like cholera. Forty thousand people living in close proximity is something to pay attention to.

The water is receding in Chokwe now, but it is difficult to assess how long our response will be needed. MSF will remain as long as the Ministry of Health needs us, for as long as it takes them to resume their services and secure access to healthcare for all. It will take time to get back to normal.

At the moment, the whole country is focused on the weather forecast for the coming days. Gaza province should be spared rain but we are worried about Zambezia province, where waters are high. If massive floods occur there, I worry about our capacity to respond to another emergency.

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