Southern Africa Floods Victims: Aid Sought

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After barely recovering from last year’s floods and only halfway into the current rainy season, rivers have overflowed their banks and predictions of more rain have led aid agencies to call for US$89 million to keep 4 Southern African countries afloat.

Unusually early and heavy rains have destroyed the homes and the livelihoods of nearly 450,000 people in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and that number could rise to 1.3 million by April when the rain finally lets up, said a UN Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP), launched on Monday.

“Regional forecasters predict above normal rainfall across most of Southern Africa until April 2008, and national forecasters in all four affected countries agree. We are also likely to experience cyclones before the conclusion of the season. We therefore expect further flood related displacement and damage,” Kelly David, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in southern Africa, told IRIN.

The international community has commended Southern African governments and disaster management agencies, but acknowledged that the affected countries were now being overwhelmed.

“Governments and their international partners were far better prepared this year to respond to the floods. This is because we worked closely together throughout 2007 to prepare for exactly this eventuality. As a result, relief items had already been placed in areas likely be flooded and this enabled a quicker response,” David said.

“The governments have done an excellent job, and they urgently need the support of the international community to ensure that all those displaced by the floods receive the food, shelter, water, medicine and other basic necessities they require to survive,” said John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“Despite the scale of these floods, the governments and the international humanitarian community have so far prevented this crisis from becoming a catastrophe.” Holmes warned that “Without additional funds, we might not be able to cope if the situation does get worse – and that would leave large numbers of people at greater risk.”

A regional response

Mozambique has been hardest hit. The CAP appealed for over $35 million to address the needs of more than 680,000 Mozambicans currently affected or at immediate risk of floodwater. A statement released by OCHA noted that “90,000 hectares of crops have been swamped, destroying the livelihoods of many subsistence farming families.”

“In Malawi, international partners are seeking about $17 million,” OCHA said, adding that flooding had hit 15 of the country’s 28 districts, affecting more than 152,000 people; over 700 cholera cases have been reported so far and the situation would likely worsen in the coming weeks. In Zambia $18.5 million was requested to assist 20,000 people, and in Zimbabwe $15.8 million would be needed to help a further 15,000.

Swaziland, Lesotho and Namibia have also experienced heavy rain that has affected thousands but governments have not sought international assistance. Parts of Madagascar, hit by Tropical Cyclone Fame earlier this month, have also been flooded.

Ready for the rain

“We are only halfway through the rainy season and with more heavy rain expected we must be able to assist potentially hundreds of thousands more people,” said Holmes.

The CAP document, titled Southern Africa Region Preparedness and Response Plan, Floods 2008, which accompanied the appeal, pointed out that national and regional meteorologists had predicted continued heavy rain and a deteriorating humanitarian situation.

“This appeal, which is unusual in that seeks both to meet immediate needs and also to manage the risks we face in the coming weeks from the continuing rain, is a result of that cooperation and planning,” David said.

“This plan seeks to change the pattern of previous appeals by seeking funding before humanitarian needs are already acute and large scale. It aruges that prevention is cheaper than remedy, and will help avert suffering,” she commented. In previous years appeals tended to be launched after floods had peaked and humanitarian needs were extensive and immediate.

“There is an urgent need to prepare for this known and imminent threat and, more important, [aid agencies] will be more effective in averting suffering and deepening of vulnerability that would set back the region’s development agenda again,” the CAP document said.

The funds would be used to provide vital food, water and sanitation supplies, shelter, family kits, medicines and education materials. The development of emergency preparedness, response and recovery measures, including the pre-positioning of food and supplies, would be critical.

The flood-affected regions in the four countries have some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. According to the OCHA statement, “The displacements and losses caused by floods will therefore have deeper consequences on HIV-affected households by disrupting HIV services and by undermining the ability of families to cope with the disease.”

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