Disease, hunger threaten flood victims

 

Disease and hunger threatened thousands of survivors of Mozambique's flood disaster yesterday as relief workers raced to distribute food and tents before the onset of more rain.

A Red Cross worker in the refugee camp of Chiaquelane, north of Maputo, where about 40,000 displaced Mozambicans have gathered, said about 500 people had died from disease in that camp alone since it was erected last month.

Relief workers using helicopters, trucks and boats were stepping up the pace of food distribution, but isolated groups of people were being missed out, and aid workers said hunger and water-borne diseases were an increasing concern.

About 800 people a day are being treated in the Chiaquelane camp for malaria, diarrhoea and dehydration.

"The international medical community has to be aware that there exists the real possibility of a serious outbreak of cholera," Dr Tom Hoggard, team leader of Northwest Medical teams, a volunteer aid organisation based in Portland, Oregon, said in Chiaquelane.

"Drugs for tropical diseases are really in short supply," he said.

Ms Rosa Malango, a spokeswoman with the UN's aid co-ordinating office, played down the imminent threat of disease, saying relief agencies were on top of it.

"We could have had a massive epidemic here, but due to the close co-ordination between local and international organisations, we have it under control," she said.

"That doesn't mean that no one's going to die, but there isn't going to be an epidemic."

More than a month of flooding has displaced nearly one million people and killed more than 200, according to government estimates. Major towns such as XaiXai remain under water more than a month after rains first hit the southern Mozambican city.

More rain has been forecast in the days ahead.

Food distribution accelerated yesterday, carried by nearly 30 helicopters backed up by trucks and boats, operating throughout the country, but food is not reaching everybody.

"There are still pockets of families who are starving . . . People are rushing to eat the food as soon as it comes off the helicopter," Mr David Schaad, regional logistical officer for the World Food Programme (WFP), said in Palmeira, north of Maputo, where maize and other foodstuffs were being distributed.

But most of the 650,000 people across the country, who the WFP estimates need food, are receiving help, and aid teams are beginning to think about the next stage of the relief effort, which will involve moving displaced people back to their homes.