International aid plan for Mozambique starting to take shape


An international plan has begun to take shape to help Mozambique to recover from its flooding disaster, but aid officials said the full human cost had yet to be revealed.

Nine presidents and prime ministers, including President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, have ended an emergency summit in Maputo of the 14-member Southern African Development Community on regional reconstruction. In a communique at the end of the talks the leaders said there was a need "for a regional institutional mechanism for disaster preparedness . . . and for the international community to promote long-term support to such a mechanism".

Floods and a cyclone have killed close to a thousand people in Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana since January and have driven more than half a million from their homes.

Thousands of Mozambicans, many of whom endured a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992, have lost everything they owned.

The Botswana President, Mr Festus Mogae, told reporters the Mozambican floods had exposed the vulnerability of African economies. "This disaster shows that the fragility and vulnerability of our economies is real and not just fabricated as a means of getting aid," he said.

President Mbeki defended the international community from criticism that powerful nations responded too late to the country's cries for help. "The response was a bit delayed but the message also got across a bit late. There was a bit of delay but in truth nobody died on the trees because they did not come quickly enough," he said.

But President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi, one of the first countries to help Mozambique to cope with the flood, echoed criticism of Western donors who took weeks to arrive. "Absolutely, the response was far too slow," he told reporters at Maputo airport.

Mozambique has identified 492 people killed by the floods, and says 261,000 are in 94 refugee camps. It says 141 schools have been destroyed and 40,000 cattle drowned.

The official toll represents only those confirmed dead by provincial authorities to the government in the capital. Aid workers fear the actual total is far higher and remain concerned that cholera and malaria could claim many more lives than the flood itself.

With forecasters predicting more heavy rainstorms, a multinational fleet of helicopters and planes was preparing to bring relief aid to communities that have not yet received any.

An assessment mission was sent to visit 10 to 12 remote and still stranded communities in the southern Gaza province.

"There are still isolated pockets where anywhere between 200 and 2,000 people are stranded," said Ms Abby Spring, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme.

Meanwhile, Mr Ross Mountain, a special envoy for the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, said that the UN and Mozambique would launch a "big figure appeal" next week for a six-month interim reconstruction programme.