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Rising Floodwaters Threaten 500,000 in Southern Africa

Relief agencies in southern Africa say rising flood waters across several countries in the region are threatening 500,000 people and that more than 60,000 have been evacuated in Mozambique. Aid groups report that the flooding has been accompanied by outbreaks of cholera among those affected. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

Disaster relief groups in southern Africa warn that floodwaters in the Zambezi River Basin, which have already caused the worst flooding in six years, have not peaked yet.

The Red Cross Federation's director for Southern Africa, Francoise Le Goff, says the disaster stretches from Angola to Mozambique and includes parts of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

"The rains are everywhere resulting in some massive destruction," she noted. "We have serious destruction of roads, houses, vehicles. So it is very serious."

Heavy rains have caused the Zambezi River and two tributaries in central Mozambique to burst their banks, filling several dams, including the massive Cahora Bassa, to capacity.

The floods have also inundated thousands of hectares of cropland two months before the harvest season. Authorities say this likely will result in food shortages in some areas.

Officials in Mozambique say the crisis could surpass the floods of 2001 that killed about 700 people and displaced 500,000 more. But they do not expect such high casualties, because they are better prepared now.

Red Cross Official Francoise Le Goff says the flooding is also causing outbreaks of cholera, a water-born disease that causes severe diarrhea.

"In the region we are getting seven countries with various outbreaks in some districts, in Malawi, in Zambia, in Zimbabwe, in Mozambique, in Namibia, in Angola among others," she added. "So we are trying also to monitor jointly the flood and the cholera outbreak."

She says 5,000 cases of cholera have been recorded in Angola since last month.

The Red Cross has released $250,000 dollars for emergency supplies, such as tents, food and medicine, and is launching an appeal for material to replace previously positioned stocks.

The U.N. World Food Program says it has distributed 300 tons of food to people in central Mozambique. It estimates 250,000 people may need food assistance in the coming months and says it is facing a shortfall of $100 million for its program this year.

The Mozambican government is preparing a $20 million disaster relief plan and is appealing for contributions to provide shelter, food and sanitation services to its displaced people.