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Relief Workers Struggle to Help Thousands Displaced by Mozambique Floods


For weeks, relief officials have been trying to cope with a human disaster caused by flooding in central Mozambique's Zambezi River basin. The floods have destroyed the homes and crops of more than 140,000 people. Correspondent Scott Bobb visited the region and reports that after the initial rescue operations the situation is stabilizing. But he says more people are arriving in the camps every day.

The people displaced by the worst floods in six years have gathered in 90 camps scattered over four provinces in central Mozambique.

The largest camp, with more than 8,000 people, is located near the village of Chupanga, about 100 kilometers up the Zambezi River from the Indian Ocean.

The women pound grain in mortars as at home, only here they are surrounded by rows of white tents and straw shelters covered with blue plastic sheets.

Residents who are registered receive a ration of (mealie) maize - the staple here - as well as lentil beans and cooking oil. Sometimes there are other goods, like salt and soap.

School is resuming inside three large tents. More than 700 primary schoolchildren are attending classes in these temporary classrooms donated by UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund. They also receive school materials, books and some clothes.

Officials say it is important for the children to regain some order in their lives. But many children are not enrolled. Some from isolated areas and have never been to school.

Nearby, under two tents, the Red Cross has set up a health unit that treats nearly 200 people a day. They give immunizations that are vital to control outbreaks of disease. So far they have managed to prevent cholera, but malaria, bronchitis and diarrhea are common.

Medical workers say many children have no vaccination cards, which means they have never had access to the health care system.

The chief medical officer is Caetano Antonio Nota, a nurse practitioner. He says that besides trying to cure the sick his team also tries to educate people about good hygiene and health care.

"We want to take advantage of this large gathering of people to send out our message that whenever they go back to their homes, they should respect these basic health principles," Nota says.

The center of the relief efforts is located in Caia, the provincial capital of Sofala.

Red Cross Coordinator Alex Claudon is standing in the sun on Caia's airstrip. He is overseeing the loading of medical supplies for a camp of displaced people that has been isolated by the floods. He says many flood victims still have received no help.

"We know that it is going to rain more. We know that those people are without shelter," Claudon says. 'And this is why we run this quite expensive air operation."

The relief groups meet every evening at the government's disaster coordination agency, the INGC (Instituto Nacional de Gestao de Calamidades), located in a two-room cement building on one end of Caia's main road.

INGC Deputy-Director Joao Ribeiro says the government wants to relocate displaced people to places where there are schools and health clinics.

"We hope to resettle these people in permanent areas in higher zones," Ribeiro says. "We know that the more productive land lies in the lower zones and the land in the higher zones is less productive. So we have to consider building dikes and irrigation systems."

But he says the government does not have the funds for such projects and will need help.

International donors say they will consider helping with resettlement if all parties agree to it. But in the meantime they are focused on supporting the victims for at least six more months until they can plant and harvest new crops, hoping all the while that new rains do not aggravate their already considerable task.

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