Accessibility links

Breaking News

Disastrous Floods in Southern Africa May Get Worse


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns the disastrous floods that have hit Southern Africa are likely to get worse. It says rains are forecast to continue until April. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

Rains, which began in early December, have caused many rivers along the Zambezi basin to swell. Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique have experienced severe flooding and the situation is spreading to other countries, notably Malawi, Lesotho and Madagascar.

The United Nations estimates more than 80,000 people in the region have been affected. And, as the rains continue, that number is expected to rise.

John Roche, the Red Cross Operations Coordinator for Southern Africa, tells VOA rescue operations are continuing and many people have been brought to dryer areas.

"As the rescue teams are out and about, they are also rescuing people who have been cut off and may be isolated. So, at that level, that is one part of the operation that is taking place," he said. "The second part now, of course, is to provide temporary shelter for these people and as they are being evacuated is to provide some assistance for food and non-food items. That operation now is ongoing."

As in all such situations, aid agencies warn of the spread of communicable diseases. Roche says this is to be expected when people live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. He says the lack of drinkable water can cause diseases such as diarrhea, and stagnant water is a breeding ground for the mosquito that causes malaria.

He says people in the area are going to need long-term assistance as well.

"If we look at the case of Mozambique, many of the areas that have been affected, this is a very fertile area. We see problems," added Roche. "Now, the crops will have been destroyed, so then when the rains go down and the lands dries, people will return, but most of their livelihoods will have been destroyed. So, this is definitely a long-term sustained effort. As we say the immediate response now is very much getting people to safer areas, and at a later stage, of course, we will have to look at the whole recovery phase."

The situation in Mozambique, where more than 70,000 people are affected, is particularly worrying. This flood-prone country was struck by a disastrous cyclone in February. The International Red Cross Federation says just as many communities are starting to recover, they now have to face another crisis.

The Red Cross has released about $1 million to deal with the immediate needs, but says given the scale of the catastrophe much more money will be needed.