Relief agencies are warning that heavy rains in Mozambique and neighboring countries are causing floods that already have killed six people and made 13,000 homeless. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.
The United Nations and the Mozambican government are preparing for a possible emergency in central Mozambique after the government issued its highest alert due to flooding in several areas.
A spokesman for the U.N. Childrens Fund, Thierry Delvigne-Jean, said thousands of people living along four rivers in central Mozambique are threatened by heavy rains which came one month early this year.
"It is too early to say. But if we look at the fact that the rainy season has started much earlier and the levels of waters are rising much more rapidly than last year, then we could face potentially more devastating flooding," he said.
Flooding along the lower Zambezi River last February killed 45 people and made one-quarter million homeless. Cyclone Favio, which struck the region around the same time, displaced another 140,000 people.
The head of Mozambique's Disaster Relief Agency, Paulo Zucula, said 60,000 people could be driven from their homes in the next few days, but that the situation has not reached the emergency level.
"Let us wait and see what is going to be the behavior of the river in the next couple of weeks," he said. "I think we will have to monitor the situation closely throughout this coming month."
Central Mozambique often experiences flooding, which usually peaks in February and March. But this year heavy rains in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi have affected four rivers, cutting off roads and disrupting river traffic.
Worried officials warn that water levels in some areas are approaching those responsible for devastating floods seven years ago that killed 700 people and displaced one-half million more.
But UNICEF's Delvigne-Jean says preparations for possible floods began earlier this year.
"The Mozambican government has started the evacuation much earlier and that is why, so far, we are seeing that the numbers are much lower," he said. "And if the rain does not start to fall too heavily, the government has the situation under control, so far."
The Mozambican government has also been trying to reduce the number of people affected by the seasonal floods by encouraging them to resettle permanently on higher ground.
The government has provided schools, clinics as well as water and sanitation facilities at some re-settlement areas. But experts say some villagers resist permanent resettlement because they are reluctant to leave their ancestral lands.