President Joaquim Chissano on 22 February expressed his concern at the flooding in central Mozambique, after overflying some of the worst affected areas, in the Zambezi and Pungue valleys.
After landing at Caia, the town on the south bank of the Zambezi from which rescue operations are being coordinated, President Chissano said the most worrying factor is that it is continuing to rain heavily, not only in Mozambique, but also in the neighbouring countries where the rivers that cross central Mozambique rise.
He said he was satisfied at the rescue and relief operations, particularly because the death toll so far is fairly low. "There are fewer deaths than last year", he said. "Our priority is to save lives".
Since the crisis began in late January, 41 deaths have been confirmed, most of them in Zambezia province. Although every major river in Sofala province (the Zambezi, the Pungue, the Buzi and the Save) has burst its banks, only three people are know to have died in Sofala.
President Chissano instructed the Sofala provincial government to continue its efforts to persuade people to leave areas that are regarded as dangerous.
Provincial Governor Felicio Zacarias told him that in some areas people were refusing to move to higher ground unless the government provided transport for their livestock and other property.
President Chissano praised local villagers who are used their own canoes to rescue people trapped by the flood waters. "The canoes are doing marvelous work", he declared. President Chissano was optimistic that Mozambique's neighbours would cooperate in water management. In particular, Mozambique wants the Zimbabwean and Zambian authorities to reduce discharges from the Kariba dam, in order to reduce the impact of the floods on the lower Zambezi. Malawi is also a concern: Mozambique wants the dam on the Shire river, which greatly contributes to the lower Zambezi flood, to reduce its discharges.
The president was confident that there would be a positive response from foreign donors to the emergency appeal, for $36.5 million, launched by the government on 21 February.
But he stressed that the spirit of internal solidarity should continue, just as had happened last year when the Mozambican Red Cross and other national NGOs had mobilised support for the victims of the catastrophic floods in the south and centre of the country.
President Chissano also stopped briefly at Mopeia and Luabo in Zambezia province, on the north bank of the Zambezi, and at the provincial capital, Quelimane, before flying on to Dar es Salaam, where he will take part in Friday's meeting between heads of state of east and southern Africa, and the leaders of the World Bank and the IMF.
Silvano Langa, the director of Mozambique's National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), warned on 23 February that the floods in the Zambezi valley in the centre of the country were "very worrying", and the situation "could become catastrophic".
"The worst may still be to come", Langa told a press conference. "Hence we must be prepared".
The main cause for concern is the Cahora Bassa dam. The dam operating company, HCB, has tried to restrict discharges from Cahora Bassa in order to lessen the impact of flooding on the lower Zambezi - but the dam lake is almost full, which makes it almost inevitable that HCB will be obliged to open more of the Cahora Bassa floodgates.
The dam has already been forced to increase its discharges from 3,800 to 4,500 cubic metres of water a second. But water continues to pour into the Cahora Bassa lake at more than twice this rate. Langa said that currently water was entering the lake at a rate of 10,800 cubic metres a second. This is water from the upstream tributaries of the Zambezia, from the heavy rains that have been falling in Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as from the Kariba dam.
At the dam wall the lake has now reached the height of 325 metres: the level of alert is 326 metres.
The weather forecast is not good. The rains in the Zambezi basin slackened somewhat this week, but further heavy rainfall is predicted for the coming days.
The only consolation is that, if Cahora Bassa is forced to open its floodgates to the maximum, it will take about a week before the flood surge reaches the plains of Marromeu on the lower Zambezi - ample time for the authorities to organise evacuation of all the threatened areas.
The town of Marromeu, together with its sugar mill and plantations, is already under threat from the current floods. Langa said the state of the Marromeu defensive dike "is not encouraging".
The dike has been breached in several places, and work is under way to shore it up. But even if the dike is repaired, the rising Zambezi might simply flow round it, and enter the town from the east, said Langa.
He was optimistic that there would be a prompt response from donors to the government's appeal for assistance launched on 21 February. Langa stressed that more helicopters and transport planes are needed. The aircraft currently available "are not enough for all the things that need to be done - both evacuating people, and moving supplies to accommodation centres", he said.
Sufficient food aid was currently available. Langa put the stocks at 7,000 tonnes, which he thought would be enough to support the flood victims for the next two months.
Meanwhile, the levels of the other major rivers in central Mozambique that had burst their banks - the Pungue, the Buzi and the Save - have fallen. But Langa feared that further rains could lead to a second flood surge down the Pungue.
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