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Floods Destroy Homes, Livelihoods in Southern Africa

Floods and heavy rains have destroyed the homes and crops of nearly 100,000 people in several countries in southern Africa. Water levels of major rivers are approaching those that caused disastrous flooding seven years ago, but relief officials say better preparation has reduced casualty rates so far. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our Southern African Bureau in Johannesburg.

Relief officials in southern Africa say heavy rains for the past month have killed several dozen people and displaced tens of thousands one month before the peak of the rainy season. Tens of thousands more have lost their crops.

An officer with the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Coordination Office, Odile Bulten, says the water levels of five rivers in the region have triggered the highest alert.

"As a result of heavy rains in Zambia and Zimbabwe these five rivers are overflowing, their levels is [are] quite high," Odile said.

The areas most affected lie in the lowlands of central Mozambique where relief officials say 30,000 people have lost their homes and another 50,000 have lost their crops.

Bulten says emergency response teams are beginning to provide food, sanitation, shelter, health and education facilities for those affected.

In Zimbabwe, soldiers are helping relief officials distribute food and medicine to victims of floods that have affected tens of thousands of people and left several thousand homeless.

A spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund, James Elder, says the rains ended a two-year drought but are complicating Zimbabwe's existing problems.

"The rainy season is still very much commencing," he said. "We've had an enormous amount of rain in December, more than 130 years of keeping records. And so what problems it is bringing is also happening at a time when Zimbabweans are facing multiple crises."

The problems include hyper-inflation, high unemployment and shortages of fuel and food. These are likely to worsen with the destruction of small gardens which many Zimbabweans grow in order to survive.

In addition, officials say nearly 1,000 people have been displaced by floods in Zambia and several hundred in Malawi.

Bulten says the rains are not expected to peak until mid-February. But she hopes that the disaster of seven years ago, when devastating floods killed 700 people and displaced 500,000 in Mozambique , will not be repeated.

"The governments are much better prepared which means that the impact on livelihoods and on communities has been mitigated and therefore there are less [fewer] lives that have been lost so far," she said.

In Mozambique, officials are moving displaced people to permanent settlements. They hope this policy will help reduce the number of victims in the future.