Mozambique floods: Preventing the spread of diseases among children in the camps
Mozambique, 18 February 2007 – UNICEF Health Officer Dr. Felix Ramos is no novice to floods disasters. He was here in 2001, the year when severe floods devastated the central region of Mozambique, leaving thousands of people homeless. And now, he is among the first UNICEF staff to be deployed to the flood-affected areas to respond to the current emergency.
Ramos arrived in Caia to join a UNICEF team responsible for evaluating the flood’s impact on various key sectors – water and sanitation, nutrition, health, education and child protection.
The small town of Caia, located in the province of Sofala, has become the operational hub for the emergency response. It is here that most of the relief efforts are being coordinated since heavy rains in parts of Mozambique and in neighbouring countries over the past few weeks have burst the banks of the Zambezi River and flooded deltas across 16 districts in the four provinces of Tete, Manica, Sofala and Zambezia.
Today, Ramos is visiting accommodation centres that have been set up to shelter the families that have been displaced by the floods. Some 86,000 people have had to leave their homes. Together with two local health officials, Ramos is identifying the most pressing needs in each of the camps in the area.
By mid-day the team has already stopped in three camps. Everywhere they are greeted by large crowds eager to tell their stories and talk about the challenges they face.
As the car approaches Murasa camp, some 30 kilometers from Caia, the team can see that the waters have started to reach the surrounding areas. A big pool of muddy water already blocks the entrance to the health post.
To reach the camp, the team has to walk through crops of maize. It soon becomes increasingly difficult to walk in the damp soil. A few meters away, two boys are walking towards them, knee-deep in the mud. The local doctor leading the group turns hesitantly towards the group.
Undeterred, Ramos looks at the two other men. “I’m going,” he says without hesitation. He removes his shoes, pulls up his pants and starts making his way through the muddy water with his notepad in one hand and his dangling shoes in the other.
On the other side, camp officials have brought a few chairs for the visitors. After they have dried their feet, the group sits under a big tree at the entrance of the camp, and soon a large crowd gathers around them. Dozens of children are making their way through the standing crowd to take a peak at the visitors.
Ramos asks to see the list of people who are being sheltered. He is concerned at the lack of proper sanitation facilities in the camp. There are too few latrines for the 500 hundred people who have sough refuge in the camp.
He explains to the camp officials that they must be vigilant about hygiene – particularly cholera and diarrhoea. “They can spread quickly through dense populations,” Ramos explains.
The information he and the team gather here will help them make critical decisions over the next few weeks, from identifying supplies needs to carrying out the most effective response under the coordination of the government, such as working with community coordinators to disseminate information on hygiene practices.
UNICEF is the lead partner for nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and protection and is working with an alliance of NGO partners in the relief efforts. UNICEF has provided water tanks, jerry cans, buckets, plastic sheeting, insecticide-treated bednets, hygiene education and cholera prevention leaflets, school-in-a-box kits, temporary classroom tents, and education materials.
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