Maputo — The Mozambican government on Tuesday declared a red alert for the southern and central provinces of the country, following alarming rises in the levels of several of the major rivers, threatening serious flooding.
The decision was taken in Maputo, at an extraordinary session of the Disaster Management Coordinating Council. Although Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina is over 1,000 kilometres away, in Caia, on the south bank of the Zambezi, he was able to chair the meeting by video-conference.
According to a spokesperson for the country’s relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), Rita Almeida, the continued heavy rains within Mozambique and in neighbouring countries, have raised the main rivers to above critical level.
The red alert means total activation of the National Operational Emergency Centre (CENOE) and of the National Civil Protection Unit (UNAPROC) to coordinate search and rescue operations for people at risk, and to ensure more coordinated and effective harmonisation of the activities of the government’s various partners in humanitarian aid.
The government has urged the public to remain calm and to obey in detail all the warnings and alerts issued by the relevant authorities. Local governments, community leaders and the Local Disaster Risk Management Committees are being urged to continue to mobilise people to move away from flood-prone areas and seek higher ground.
Perhaps the most serious situation is in the Limpopo Valley in the southern province of Gaza. For much of its length, the Limpopo is above flood level, and the rising waters are threatening many villages in Chokwe district, which is at the heart of the county’s largest irrigation scheme.
The INGC puts the number of people at risk of flooding in Chokwe at 55,252.
Eight neighbourhoods in Chokwe town, and 12 villages in the district could be inundated.
The flood alert level of the Limpopo at Chokwe is five metres, and at 18.00 on Monday the river was measured at 6.03 metres. The forecast for the next 48 hours is that the river could rise to between 6.8 and eight metres. In the catastrophic Limpopo flooding of 2000, the level of the river at Chokwe reached 10.54 metres.
This could be reached again. At the Combumune measuring station on the upper Limpopo, the river stood at 11.88 metres at 07.00 on Tuesday, considerably higher than the maximum figure reached in 2000 of 10.97 metres. (Flood alert level at Combumune is a mere 4.5 metres).
Water is pouring from the floodgates in the two major dams in the Limpopo basin. The discharges from the Massingir dam on the Elephants River, the major tributary of the Limpopo, reached 4,000 cubic metres a second on Tuesday, while the Macarretane dam, a few kilometres upstream from Chokwe is releasing 5,000 cubic metres a second.
To support the evacuation of people from high risk areas ten boats and 110 UNAPROC troops have been sent to Chokwe. Given the dangerous situation, people who refuse to leave these areas may be evacuated by force.
“Our operations in the Limpopo basin are centred on Chokwe, where the situation is worrying, but that doesn’t mean we are ignoring other areas”, said Almeida. “On Tuesday morning, a boat was sent for rescue operations in Massingir district, and we also have boats positioned in Chibuto and Guija”.
In the locality of Pafuri, in Chicualacuala district, on the upper Limpopo, at least 2,000 people have been isolated by the floods. Almeida said the Gaza provincial government has sent teams to assist them to check on the situation.
The Incomati river is continuing to rise and at Magude, in Maputo province, it reached 7.53 metres (over two and a half metres above alert level) on Tuesday morning.
The largest river in the country, the Zambezi, remains above alert level on its lower reaches, and the Pungoe river, at the Mafambisse sugar plantation in Sofala province, is also in flood.
“Although there has been a reduction in the rains, flooding will continue in Gaza and Inhambane provinces in the south, and to some extent in the central provinces”, said Almeida. “When the conditions of all the river basins were analysed, the conclusion was reached that the government should activate a red alert, no only for the situation in Chokwe, but for all the basins in the south and centre of the country”.
In all, the torrential rains across the country have caused 40 deaths, while 25,557 people are classified as “affected”, of whom 8,500 are in the accommodation centres the government has established. 5,230 houses have been destroyed or damaged, as have 79 classrooms.
According to the National Meteorological Institute (INAM), between 11 and 21 January over 200 millimetres of rain fell in parts of Gaza and the neighbouring province of Inhambane. In Chigubo, in the Limpopo basin, an area which is normally semi-arid, 334.9 millimetres of rain fell. For Panda, in Inhambane, the figure was 295.4 millimetres, and for Xai-Xai, the Gaza provincial capital, it was 272.6 millimetres.
Heavy rains are predicted to continue throughout Tuesday in Gaza, Inhambane and parts of the central provinces of Manica and Zambezia. In some areas, the rainfall could reach 50 millimetres in 24 hours.
The forecast for the period from Wednesday to next Monday is that Inhambane, Manica and the far south of Gaza (that is, the area near Xai-Xai) will continue to experience intensive rains, with between 100 and 200 millimetres falling in the five day period.