The government of Mozambique has appealed for $70 million to permanently resettle 140,000 villagers who have been displaced by heavy flooding along the Zambezi River basin. Relief workers are still struggling to reach thousands of victims who have been cut off by the high waters. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports on the resettlement debate from the village of Ndere, on an island in the Zambezi River, about 150 kilometers from Indian Ocean coast.
It is late in the day and thunderstorms are looming on the horizon when a relief helicopter lands in a muddy field outside Ndere camp.
The villagers rush to greet the first relief workers they have seen since floods destroyed their crops and homes weeks ago.
The camp was only discovered the day before by a pilot who spotted the straw and stick shelters from the air.
A village leader, Mavuto Alberto Barro, says the camp's several thousand inhabitants have received no aid since the floods more than a month ago. He says their food stocks have run out.
He says several children have died in recent days for lack of food and many people are sick with malaria, diarrhea and coughs.
A member of the Mozambican Red Cross, Simao Nyasengo, gives the villagers a stack of shovels and a stack of molded latrine covers.
He shows them how to dig holes for the latrines, which will help control disease.
He says the helicopter will return the next day with plastic sheets to cover their shelters. And he will report their location to the government's relief coordination agency so that they can begin receiving food.
This is the worst disaster since floods six years ago killed 700 people and displaced more than 200,000 more.
The Mozambican government wants to resettle these people on higher ground where they will be safer and can be provided with social services.
The Deputy-Director of the Disaster Relief Agency (Instituto Nacional de Gerao de Calamidades), Joao Ribeiro, says it is a waste of money to build schools and health clinics in flood-prone areas.
"The government is not going to build facilities on the islands because of the cost," he said. "But we plan to do public works, build water points, schools and health units where they can be utilized long term."
Ribeiro believes that the lower casualty rate from this year's flooding is due in part to the fact that some of the displaced people six years ago heeded the government's advice and moved to safer zones. He says people in more accessible areas are less marginalized.
"It is also a way for the people in these accommodation centers to be provided with identification papers and registered as the Mozambican citizens that they are," he added.
The plan has its critics. Some displaced communities do not want to be resettled and prefer to return to their crops and ancestral lands when the waters subside.
And some communities hosting displaced people do not want them to become permanent residents, because they strain meager local resources.
U.N. Children's Fund coordinator Lisa Doherty says relief agencies are following the debate.
"As the U.N. we are not coming out with a strong position on this until we are sure that the communities involved, the displaced and host, that their preferences and needs are taken into account," she noted.
But she says if there is consensus on the plan her agency will support it.
World Food Program coordinator Peter Rodrigues says the most important challenge at this time is to help these people survive until they can harvest their next crop in six months.
"We are here to support the government-led plan in a very neutral way making sure that the most needy get food," he said. "But then apart from the resources which we need now, our challenges are to make sure that the food gets to the people in a timely manner."
He says that WFP food stocks in Mozambique have been exhausted by the disaster. As a result, the WFP has appealed for millions of dollars to help meet the needs of the flood victims during the next few months.