Deperate efforts are underway to move about 100,000 people from the flood waters that are flowing down the Zambezi river. Over 400,000 people have been affected by Mozambique's flood crisis, with 81,000 people forced from their homes. So far, the known death toll stands at 52.
On 2 March, Silvano Langa, Director of Mozambique's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), stated that the government has opened forty accommodation centres for flood victims, and these are currently sheltering about 24,000 people. Many more are expected to enter the accommodation centres in the coming days, as the authorities step up evacuation from the districts of Marromeu, Chinde and Mopeia on the lower reaches of the Zambezi.
The river is continuing to rise, and spill out across the flat flood plains near its delta. The rise is bound to continue in the coming few days, said Langa.
He thought there were still about 100,000 people to be evacuated, most of them from the Marromeu area. This is a huge task: Langa pointed out that in the floods of 2000 in southern and central Mozambique, in the space of four weeks only 52,000 people were evacuated in boats and helicopters. (Although many more made their way to the accommodation centres by their own means.) Earlier, rescue operations were hindered by the refusal of people to leave their homes and their land. But as the danger becomes more evident, this resistance seems to be crumbling: on 1 March helicopters rescued 234 people, compared with less than 30 in the previous two days put together.
Langa said attempts have been made to shore up the defences of the two main towns on the lower Zambezi, Luabo on the north bank and Marromeu on the south bank. Thus 1,000 extra sandbags have been used to strengthen the protective dike at Luabo. But despite this, the government thought the most prudent measure was to evacuate both towns. The mainstay of the Marromeu economy is the sugar mill and plantation of the Mauritian-owned Sena company. Langa said the company management "is prepared to evacuate".
Three more South African air force helicopters arrived on 1 March, bringing to 12 the number of helicopters active in the rescue and relief operations (including the two operational helicopters of Mozambique's own armed forces, the FADM).
Three South African fixed wing planes are also available, and a further four, provided by the South African electricity and telecommunications companies, Eskom and SA Telecom, will arrive in the next few days.
Langa said there were reports, as yet unconfirmed, that ten people had died of hunger, in an area of Inhangoma, in Mutarara district, that has been isolated by the flood waters. Hunger situations arise, he stressed, not because of lack of food, but because of logistical problems in moving it to all the people in need.
Currently the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has over 680 tonnes of food available in the two cities nearest the flood areas - 411 tonnes in Quelimane, and 270 tonnes in Tete. Elsewhere in the country, the WFP has over 11,000 tonnes that can be used as and when required.
The waters of the Zambezi river are now flooding low-lying parts of Tete city. The Nhartanda valley, which forms part of the city, was inundated on 26 February. Radio Mozambique reported that the high part of the city is now like an island surrounded by water.
The Tete Municipal Council has been advised to evacuate people from some parts of the city. Similarly people in the neighbouring district of Moatize have been told to move away from the banks of the Revobue, a major tributary of the Zambezi, which is also in full flood.
Flooding in Caia district, in the central province of Sofala, is likely to affect the ability of the education sector to carry out its programme. Antonio Teze, the Caia district administrator, who was speaking during an extra-ordinary sitting of the district government on occasion of President Joaquim Chissano's visit on 22 February, said that the floods have paralysed 23 primary schools, affecting over 600 pupils and 62 teachers.
The Extended Vaccination Programme of the health sector has been affected due to the poor state of the roads, - the road between the district capital and the administrative post of Sena has been cut, and the localities of Licoma and Nhamitanga are also isolated from Caia town.
The ferry over the Zambezi at Caia, that links the provinces of Sofala and Zambezia, has been unable to operate since 14 February.
The flooding has also swamped 11 water pumps that supply drinking water to the Caia population. This has forced the population to drink untreated water, which has fuelled fears of an outbreak of cholera.
The Sunday paper "Domingo" on 4 March named two people arrested in connection with the assassination of Mozambique's best known journalist, Carlos Cardoso. The two named are Carlos Pinto da Cruz, and Manuel Fernandes. The journal Metical has named three others: Ernesto Vasco, Sebastiao Manhica, and Justico Bila.
Both "Domingo" and "Metical" say that the men were deported from Swaziland, where the Swazi police, in the absence of an extradition treaty, accused them of entering the country illegally. Possibly all five were deported, and picked up by the Mozambican police at the border.
"Domingo"'s story, obviously dependent exclusively on police sources, goes into great detail about how Pinto da Cruz and Fernandes were arrested.
It claims that Pinto da Cruz is known in the local underworld by the nickname "Anibalzinho", and that his sidekick Fernandes is a hired killer, also known as "o Anao" (the Dwarf).
It names Cruz as the head of the gang that murdered Cardoso on 22 November - but assumes they were paid to carry out the crime by others, as yet unidentified.
Most of the material published by "Domingo" can only come from the case file on the murder, or from a police officer familiar with the case file. Yet Lucinda Cruz, the lawyer for Cardoso's widow, Nina Berg, has persistently been denied access to the case file.
"The Cardoso family, their lawyer, the ''Metical'' staff - they have always been told that this information is sub judice, but now it appears all over the centre pages of ''Domingo''", exclaimed an angry Lucinda Cruz to AIM. "The family's lawyer has no right to consult the case file, but the journalists of ''Domingo'' have".
She noted that "Metical" had always been careful not to publish the details of what its staff had told the police, in order not to prejudice the investigation - but now this material has appeared in great detail in "Domingo". "We always respected the wishes of the police, but now we are faced with this", said Cruz.
It is not yet clear what motivation the police - or a grouping within the police - have in releasing via "Domingo" details from the case file which are, in principle, still confidential.
The Mozambican police have recovered two of the 19 drums and eight and a half bags of obsolete pesticides stolen recently from the Waste Treatment Station in Matola, where they were awaiting authorisation for re-export.
Eight people have been detained, including five workers at the station and two security guards.
The Environment Ministry had announced that 19 drums, with a capacity of 200 litres each, and containing highly toxic materials, capable of causing death to many people in a short period of time, through swallowing, inhaling or skin contact, had been stolen from the treatment station.
The police said that the quantity of the recovered pesticides corresponds to eight drums, and that they have now encouraging clues to recover the remainder of the stolen product.
It is believed that the thieves intended to sell the drums as water containers.
A train crash in the northern province of Nampula early on 2 March has claimed the lives of at least eight people, and injured 22 others. The crash involved two cargo trains at Nacavala station, in Meconta district, some 50 kilometres east of the provincial capital, Nampula city.
According to witnesses, the two trains, one of which was stationary, crashed head-on. One of the trains was thrown off the rails due to the impact of the crash. Apparently the victims were hanging on to the wagons.
Sources at the northern branch of the country's ports and railway company (CFM-Norte) said that the accident was due to the negligence of one of its workers.
The company has said that there is heavy damage to equipment. The two locomotives belonged to Central East African Railways (formerly Malawi Railways), and had been leased out to CFM-Norte.
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Helder Muteia on 28 February launched two programmes intended to support the country's microfinance institutions.
Muteia said that the programmes, Microstart and Mozambican Microfinance Facility, fall under the government's objective of creating more opportunities for the poorer strata of society to gain access to credit markets.
Muteia thought that the programmes were crucial if Mozambican agriculture was to take a qualitative leap, and become competitive within the medium to long term.
He told journalists that "with these two programmes the microcredit institutions, which are still at an early stage in the country, will be upgraded. This will grant them conditions to render better services to their clients, and will enable the greatest number of poor people to have easy access to the country's financial services".
The initiatives were established to fill the gap that existed in relation to access to credit by micro-businessmen, he said, since the commercial banks impose a series of conditions which most cannot meet.
Micro-companies are considered to be the main medium for the country's fast development. Microstart is funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the African Development Bank (ADB), and it is aimed at stimulating the growth of Micro Finance Institutions (MFI). It will span three years.
The programme is open for any citizen, NGOs, associations, or Mozambican finance institutions which show great interest in developing or establishing MFIs to provide financial services to micro-companies.
The Mozambican Microfinance Facility (MMF) is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, and aims at helping Mozambique reduce the levels of poverty and improve the supply of basic products to the population. This programme will span a five year period.
The government of the northern province of Cabo Delgado needs $200 million to implement its strategic development plan, according to provincial governor Jose Pacheco.
Speaking to reporters on 23 February, at the end of the Second Conference on the Development of Cabo Delgado, Pacheco said that $100 million is already available. Most of this comes from foreign donors, with a 10 per cent participation from the Mozambican state.
Pacheco was optimistic that the rest of the money could be obtained from a variety of sources. Contacts with various cooperation partners already existed, he said, and negotiations with them would continue.
The projects which, according to the plan, should be implemented immediately are those linked to tourism, and the construction of education and health infrastructures.
The Mozambican government has once again authorised the export of raw cashew nuts, but the exporters, who are suspected of evading the export surtax on the nuts, must pay a deposit while customs investigates the real export price being paid.
In late January, the independent newsheet "Metical" reported that the government had slapped an embargo on the export of raw nuts because it could not believe the low FOB prices that the exporters were quoting.
Raw nuts pay an 18 per cent export surtax - a measure designed to protect the national cashew processing industry.
Exporters shipping unprocessed nuts out of the northern port of Nacala were quoting FOB prices between $335 and $440 a tonne. But the current FOB price for raw cashews on the world market should not be less than $650 a tonne.
On 23 February "Metical" reported that, after lengthy negotiations, UTRA, the customs restructuring unit in the Finance Ministry, has allowed the nuts to be exported - but only against a deposit.
The traders will pay the 18 per cent surtax on the declared FOB prices - but they must also provide a banker's letter of guarantee pledging payment of surtax on the difference between the declared price and $650 a tonne.
The exporters claim they are paid low prices because the quality of Mozambican nuts is "very poor". Therefore studies to ascertain the real price are to be undertaken.
The 510 workers of the Laurentina brewery, in Maputo, have ended a strike after two days, and after securing wage increases of up to 35 per cent.
They agreed to return to work, although other demands, including a review of the professional career structure of the factory, and the sacking of the company's finance director, have not been met.
The Mozambican and Swiss governments signed an agreement in Maputo, on 21 February, under which Switzerland is to grant about 17 billion Swiss Francs (about $100 million) to support the Mozambican health service over the next three years.
This money is mostly earmarked for the running costs of the provincial health directorates, and a small share will also go towards supporting the operations of the central organs of the Health ministry, particularly in the purchase of medicines and laboratory and surgical equipment.
The provincial Planning and Finances directorates will also benefit from some of this aid in their capacity as managers of the funds.
A further 3,750 billion Swiss Francs, for technical assistance, are still under negotiation between Switzerland and the health ministry.
The Mozambican government on 20 February gave the Finance Ministry authorisation to issue further treasury bonds, to the value of 700 billion meticais (about $39 million).
The state is resorting to domestic indebtedness in order to save two privatised banks from going out of business. This is the second large scale bond issue, designed to raise money to recapitalise the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM) and the Austral Bank.
The total funding the government seeks to raise is the equivalent of about $80 million.
The Mozambican government has fought tenaciously and successfully for several years to eliminate most of the country's foreign debt. Ironically, while foreign debt servicing has fallen sharply, domestic debt servicing is set to rise sharply, all because of the incompetent management of privatised banks.
The Australian government is to help restructure, train and equip new units of fire fighters in the main cities and towns of Mozambique.
The director of the Civil Protection department at the Interior Ministry, Jorge Augusto, said that the Australian support will cover areas such as staff training, and the acquisition of fire fighting equipment, among others.
Currently some Mozambican cities, including some provincial capitals, do not have their own fire fighting units, and are thus dependant on services provided by units based in other cities, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away. Furthermore, several of the existing units are struggling with a shortage of appropriate vehicles and other equipment.
Speaking to AIM, Augusto said that two Australian experts in Civil Protection visited Mozambique recently. Subsequently, they met with representatives of bodies such as insurance companies, the police, distributors of fire fighting equipment and others, to discuss the conclusions of their assessment.
Deputies of the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition on 1 March, for the second day running, completely disrupted the work of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic.
On 28 February the disruption had been a percussion affair, with Renamo members thumping on the tables, banging them with their name plaques and stamping their feet. But on 1 March, Renamo added a woodwind and brass section to its orchestra - many of the deputies had brought into the chamber whistles and kazoos.
The opening of the session was postponed, while the Assembly's governing board, its Standing Commission, went into extraordinary session.
A source in the Commission told AIM that what was under discussion was the question of parliamentary immunity. The Attorney-General's Office wishes to start criminal proceedings against several Renamo deputies for offences arising out of disturbances during the 1999 election campaign, and out of the clashes on 9 November between Renamo demonstrators and the police.
The Standing Commission has not authorised the lifting of anybody's parliamentary immunity: earlier this year it did authorise the Criminal Investigation Police to question named Renamo deputies.
Renamo regarded this as "intimidation", and demanded that the Standing Commission should suspend these authorisations. Frelimo saw this as a deliberate confusion between two separate issues - answering police questions, and facing criminal charges. Only the latter would involve lifting immunity.
When the plenary session finally met, Renamo did its utmost to obstruct other parliamentarians.
The session consisted of the formal speeches from the heads of the two parliamentary groups (Frelimo and Renamo) for the opening of the first parliamentary sitting of 2001, and a statement from the government concerning the floods in the central provinces.
However, Renamo demanded that the session be postponed until 5 March. Frelimo refused to waste the entire day, and so Mulembue announced that he would put the Renamo proposal for suspending the session to the vote. Just as on 28 February, Renamo objected to a vote.
Deputies' constitutional rights were being trampled upon, claimed Luis Boavida. "Deputies should not be working under threats and intimidation", he declared. "There are no conditions for us to work" When Frelimo deputy Feliciano Mata stressed the need for the Assembly to take seriously the flood crisis, he was met with jeers and shouts from Renamo.
Eventually Mulembue took the vote. However as soon as the vote began, the orchestra went into action.
Above the din, Mulembue announced the result - 132 votes against suspending proceedings, one abstention (Raul Domingos, the former head of the Renamo parliamentary group, who was expelled from the party last September), and none in favour. In theory the 107 Renamo deputies present should lose a day's wages, since the parliamentary standing orders equate failure to vote with absence from the chamber.
Giving the Frelimo "declaration of vote", Acucena Duarte, struggling to make her voice heard above the racket, pledged that the ruling party would ensure that the Assembly could do its work despite Renamo sabotage, It had voted "against indiscipline, and against attempts to wreck this Assembly".
By then there was only ten minutes left of the session (the Assembly sits from 08.30 to 13.00). This was just time for the deputy head of the Frelimo group, Margarida Talapa, to give the formal Frelimo statement on the opening of the parliamentary sitting. No time was left for Public Works Minister Roberto White to brief the Assembly on the current floods.
The Renamo-Electoral Union coalition insisted on 22 February that early general elections should be called in order to put an end to the alleged political crisis.
The reiterated demand was made as a proposed agenda point during the second meeting of the working group on constitutional, legal and parliamentary matters, one of three groups created as a result of the meetings between President Joaquim Chissano and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama on 20 December and 17 January.
The head of the Renamo delegation on the working group, Manuel Frank, said that besides the call for early elections, Renamo also repeated its demand that Renamo governors be appointed in those provinces where it secured a majority of votes in the December 1999 general elections. However, Frank acknowledged that such demands cannot be met under the present constitution - a constitution that Renamo itself refused to amend during the 1994-1999 legislature.
For her part, the spokesperson of the government delegation, Noemia Francisco, said that the second meeting was only to take note of Renamo's demands. Commenting on these demands, she said "they are nothing new. We have heard them on previous occasions and we will discuss them and give the necessary answers".
Another of the working groups, that on Public Administration, Municipalities and Traditional Power, also met on 22 February but the participants declined to comment to reporters on the matters discussed.
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