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UN prepares to help tens of thousands of flood victims in southern Africa

UN prepares to help tens of thousands of flood victims in southern Africa

The United Nations and its non-governmental partners are gearing up to bring emergency relief to tens of thousands of southern Africans, whose lives and livelihoods have been endangered by unusually early torrential rains in the Zambezi river basin.

“Governments and international humanitarian organizations are scaling up their efforts to ensure a swift response and save lives,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said today of the flooding, which so far has hit Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia the hardest.

“But many of those affected are still struggling to recover from last year’s floods and cyclones. For this reason and in view of the long rainy season ahead, humanitarian needs in the region are likely to increase over the coming weeks. We must continue to support Governments responding to the increasing impact of these natural disasters.”

In Mozambique alone some 56,000 people have so far been affected, including 13,000 relocated to resettlement centres after heavy rains in the region sharply swelled the Zambezi, Pungue, Buzi and Save rivers. Last week the authorities declared the highest-level alert in several areas of the country, and search and rescue operations are ongoing.

“The humanitarian community stands ready to support the Government in the ongoing response,” UN Resident Coordinator Ndolamb Ngokwey said. “Over the past few months, we have been working closely with national authorities to put in place contingency plans to ensure that needs of those affected by the flooding are met expeditiously.”

UN teams deployed to the affected regions are undertaking a rapid assessment in key areas, such as agriculture, water and sanitation, nutrition, education and child protection.

In anticipation of this year’s rainy season, emergency supplies had already been pre-positioned in several strategic locations in flood-prone areas. The supplies for distribution include shelter and non-food items, to enable a quick first-line response.

Localized flooding is common in Mozambique during the southern Africa rainy season from November to March. Last year, an estimated 285,000 people were affected along the Zambezi River Basin. As rising water levels from heavy rains flooded low-lying areas, over 100,000 people took refuge in temporary accommodation centres.

In Zimbabwe civil protection officials and their UN, Red Cross and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners responded late last month to floods affecting some 3,000 people in the north of the country as well as more than 5,000 others along the south-eastern border with Mozambique, many of whom have returned home. While the situation is now stable, the Government is maintaining a close watch on flood-prone areas.

In Zambia, the Government estimates that several hundred people may have been affected by floods in the south and it has launched a multimillion-dollar contingency plan to deal with the effects of floods. Already, 34 of 72 districts have been put on red alert.

“We are greatly concerned at the emergency responses this early in the rainy season,” said Kelly David, Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Southern Africa. “If this continues, we can expect a substantial impact.”