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Updated 5 April 2000

Background

The worst floods in living memory continue to make Southern Africa - Mozambique, Madagascar, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana - a scene of unrelenting region-wide disaster, comparable in devastation to the recent earthquakes and their aftermath in Turkey. Beyond hundreds already dead, undetermined numbers missing, and a half-million homes destroyed, malaria and diarrhoea are in evidence and there is a prospect of cholera outbreaks. Most recently, Madagascar was hit by Cyclone Hudah, reportedly 248 miles across and with winds exceeding 190 miles per hour, intensifiying a calamity that has set back regional hopes for rapid development in the near term.

Copyright © UNICEF/HQ00-0247/Giacomo Pirozzi
Photo: In Mozambique, several children stand pressed against each other in a queue, holding blue slips of paper indicating that they should be vaccinated against meningitis, during a two-day immunization session for all 5,000 people at the Wenela camp who have been displaced by the flooding.

When Cyclone Eline and torrential rains caused rivers to overflow their banks in early February, Mozambique was hardest hit. But the crisis was regional. In Zimbabwe - already wracked by severe economic crisis - some 250,000 were rendered homeless by floods. In Botswana at least 90,000 were affected and 10,000 dwellings were destroyed. The country of South Africa was hit not only by the floods but is now heavily engaged in emergency assistance to her neighbors, including a large influx of flood refugees. In Madagascar , in the wake of flooding caused by Cyclone Gloria, preliminary reports indicated that some 560,000 people were affected, with 10,000 left homeless and another 12,000 out of reach.

Regional map showing affected countries. (Note: this map does not reflect a position by UNICEF on the legal status of any country or territory or the delimitation of any frontiers.)

What Is Most Pressing Now?

Thousands remain stranded and in need of rescue; Malaria and diarrhoea are on the increase, posing added health threats; Shortages are driving staple prices beyond the reach of many; and Needed bridges and roads have been washed away. In Mozambique heavy rains in the flood-stricken country have hampered aid efforts. Helicopters and planes were forced to wait for new rains to ease so that aid operations could be resumed.

Copyright © UNICEF/HQ00-0242/Giacomo Pirozzi
Photo: A worker points to a label on a box of vaccine supplies indicating that they were sent to the office of UNICEF in Mozambique (from UNICEF's supply operation in Copenhagen), as he stacks it beside others, for transport to flood-affected areas.

There were also unconfirmed reports that thousands might be stranded along the Limpopo River in southern Mozambique.

Over 100,000 have been dislocated from their homes in Mozambique including some 22,000 children under 5. Urgency is pervasive as the need for tents and shelter, health assistance and basic survival supplies remains acute. Rescue operations continue to be hampered by intermittent bad weather.

What UNICEF Is Doing

UNICEF launched an urgent effort to stave off disease in Mozambique. Early in the emergency, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy visited the area. The children's agency has concentrated on getting needed medicines in place before outbreaks occur. And on ensuring access to safe water, health services and sanitation facilities.

UNICEF is also developing shelters, feeding stations and distribution points. Work proceeds on establishing radio communication between relief locations and provincial and national capitols. Many other agencies are involved in the initial efforts of what promises to be a long process of reconstruction of shattered populations and devastated infrastructures.

"It is not just rescue and evacuation," Ian MacLeod of UNICEF Mozambique told BBC."The immediate rescue of people stranded on roofs and in trees is just the beginning."

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11 February 2000

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