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Monday, 6 March, 2000, 17:04 GMT
The floods: A regional disaster
helicopter aid
South African helicopters rescue flood victims
The flooding in southern Africa, which has left hundreds dead and around 1.25 million homeless, is the worst in living memory.

While Mozambique has borne the brunt of the disaster, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and the island of Madagascar have all been affected.

Rivers across the region burst their banks last week as, Cyclone Eline, swept in, bringing new rains to lands already waterlogged by more than two weeks of storms.

displaced
Thousands have been displaced
In Zimbabwe, more than 100 people have died, and an estimated 250,000 have been left homeless, exacerbating the country's worst economic crisis in 20 years.

Crops and village granaries have been washed away, destroying food supplies, and roads, bridges and dams have been destroyed.

Reports say an estimated $10bn worth of damage has been caused to crops, livestock, infrastructure and property.

The government is warning that thousands of people face starvation because food distribution had been virtually impossible in some areas.

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Government critics say relief efforts have been severely hampered because a third of the army and much of its equipment is currently deployed in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.


The government has totally neglected us. We are like lost sheep because there is no help at all that we are getting at the moment

Villager in southern Zimbabwe
"It's unfortunate that the government has sent so many troops, planes and helicopters to the aid of a foreign government when the duty of the army is first and foremost to help the people of Zimbabwe," Morgan Tsvangirai, president of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was quoted saying.

The disaster, which is bound to put pressure on embattled President Robert Mugabe, spells further misery for a population already faced with record rates of unemployment and inflation.

A state of emergency has been declared in the provinces of Manicaland, Matebeleland South and Masvingo.

The cyclone has also worsened Zimbabwe's petrol shortage as supply ships have been unable to dock at Mozambique's port of Beira.

Refugee crisis

South Africa is now bracing for a massive influx of refugees from both Zimbabwe and Mozambique as it continues to mop up after its own flood damage.

Squatters
Some of South Africa's poorest have lost their homes
Twelve South African helicopters and two from Malawi have been working around the clock to rescue people from treetops and roofs in Mozambique.

The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho and poverty-stricken Zambia have also committed their only cargo planes to deliver food and medicine.

Botswana has offered Mozambique 220,000 gallons of fuel for rescue operations and Zambia has contributed $1m.

"This is the first time in the history of the continent that we are seeing Africa-to-Africa solidarity and aid support," said an ambassador in the Mozambique capital, Maputo.

Corpses

The latest victim of the turbulent weather conditions is Madagascar where reports say 30 people were killed when Eline's successor, Cyclone Gloria, swept across the Indian Ocean island.

In South Africa, more than 90 people have died in Northern Province and neighbouring Mpumalanga since the start of the flooding in February.

Police said families had been forced to keep corpses in their homes for several days because access routes to mortuaries and hospitals had been cut off by the floodwaters.

The government has donated 15m rand ($2.4m) to the region for flood relief.

In Zambia, thousands of people face starvation because their crops were destroyed when the overspill gates of the giant Kariba Dam were opened amid fears it could burst.

And in Botswana, more than 10,000 houses have collapsed and 34,000 people are in desperate need of help. About 11 rain-related deaths have been recorded.

The government has appealed for international aid. Provisional estimates put the cost of damage to infrastructure at $8.5m.



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See also:

25 Feb 00 |  Africa
A sad journey back home
11 Feb 00 |  Africa
Africa's flood misery
24 Feb 00 |  Africa
Machel backs Mozambique appeal
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