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UN Says Southern Africa Floods Could Worsen

The United Nations says some of the worst floods in a decade in Southern Africa could worsen as more rain is forecast for the region. Tens of thousands of people in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique have been affected by the flooding. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The United Nations estimates more than 80,000 people in four countries have been affected by the floods, which began in early December.

Mozambique is bearing the brunt of the disaster, with more than 70,000 people seriously affected. Rescue efforts are underway.

UN Humanitarian spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs tells VOA at least 30,000 people have already been moved and resettled in centers. She says many of the victims had refused to leave the dangerous areas and the authorities have been forced to remove them against their will.

"But, this situation is of concern because roughly 1,000 and 600 households have been moved to higher ground due to the flooding at the confluence between the Zambezi and the river Shire," said Byrs. "Over 31,000 hectares of land are lost right now, arable lands are lost in flooding, which is a very important loss for the economy and for the livelihood of that population."

The relentless rains also are causing severe flooding in many areas of northeastern Zimbabwe, leading to severe destruction and affecting at least eight thousand people.

Aid agencies report many crops have been washed away and food stocks destroyed. They say people who already were vulnerable before the floods are now totally dependent on households in communities who managed to salvage their own stocks.

The United Nations says it is stepping up its humanitarian operations. It says it will deploy more experts in emergency management to the region in the coming days to help the governments cope with the disaster.

Over the past week, the International Organization for Migration has provided non-food emergency assistance to more than 800 households in Zimbabwe. Spokesman, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, says the risk of malaria and water-borne diseases is growing.

"We have noticed with our partners an increase in various diarrheal diseases which obviously need to be addressed mostly because water is being contaminated. Because of the floods, drinking water is being contaminated," said Chauzy. "So, obviously, water and sanitation is a priority for the emergency response. Yes, households have been affected. Some households have been washed away by the rain. There, again, we are with our partners providing non-food items. There are tarpaulins that will allow people to have at least one dry area in the house."

The distress caused by the flooding is expected to continue for some time. Heavy rains are predicted for Madagascar from January to March. The Madagascan government says up to 600,000 people could be affected by flooding.