Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Preparedness pays as hundreds of thousands flee from floods in Mozambique

Alexander Matheou in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: Yvonne is 64. She has spent the last six days on a roof. The rest of her family fled the village ten days ago after packing everything they could onto a small cart, but Yvonne stayed, hoping the oncoming floods would recede quickly so she could salvage and protect her house and her things.  But the water flowed in and rose up fast. So she climbed onto the roof and waited.

When she felt the water was shallow enough, she climbed down and walked 25km to an agreed meeting point. As she arrives, the family gather round, cheering and clapping. Yvonne does a little dance and joins the six children and three adults huddled under a plastic sheet.

Scattered around her and stretching along miles of road are tens of thousands of other families, huddled under dense trees for shelter. A few have tents, some have plastic sheets, but most are out in the open. The majority are women and children. They are cooking, breastfeeding, fanning themselves, sleeping and braiding their children's hair. They have all managed to salvage something from their homes so they sit around piles of cases and bags.

That they have been able to save anything is testament to the one piece of good news in a crisis that has displaced 200,000 people. The early warning systems worked.

Improved climate science, combined with the commitment of the authorities to disseminate warnings through radio and volunteers with the Mozambique Red Cross Society, meant people had time to pack and leave for higher ground. During the floods of 2000, over 700 people died.  So far in 2013, fewer than 100 have lost their lives.

Yet while the early warning is impressive, the overall response is less so. In this one district of Gaza, 100,000 people are sleeping in the open, and there are also problems with food, water and hygiene. Relief is being distributed, but it is in painfully short supply. Roads are still crammed with moving people, and the numbers are swelling....

NASA image of a 2000 flood in Mozambique

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