30 January 2013

Mozambique: Limpopo Receding, but Still Above Flood Level

Maputo — Although the flood waters of the Limpopo are now receding, the river remains above flood alert level for most of its length inside Mozambique, according to the latest bulletin from the National Water Board (DNA).

At Combomune, on the Upper Limpopo, where the alert level is 4.5 metres, the river dropped slowly from 5.83 metres on Sunday to 5.35 metres on Monday and 5.32 metres on Tuesday.

At the capital of Gaza province, Xai-Xai, near the mouth of the river (flood alert level 4.3 metres), over the same period the river fell only slightly from 5.3 to 5.1 metres.

Xai-Xai is divided into a lower and an upper part – and in the lower part of the city, residents and institutions had good time to evacuate, and moved everything valuable to the higher parts of the city.

As of Tuesday, water still swirled through streets in some, but not all of the lower part of the city. Since the flooding was not as bad as initially feared, some of the Xai-Xai shops that had closed three days earlier reopened. Banks and offices, however, are still closed.

The town and district of Chokwe were the areas worst hit by the flood. No information for recent days is available from the Chokwe hydrometric station, but the footage shot by television crews visiting the town shows that streets are still under water.

Although water and electricity supplies to Chokwe have been restored, the authorities are not advising residents of the town, currently living in government accommodation centres, to go home.

Rita Almeida, spokesperson for the Mozambican relief agency, the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC) warned “we do not advise a speedy return because there is still a risk of disease”.

There are currently 138,589 people living in 26 temporary accommodation centres, and providing shelter, food, clean water and health care for all of them is an enormous task. Across Gaza, according to provincial governor Raimundo Diomba, about 71,000 pupils are unable to attend school because of the floods.

Addressing a session of the Gaza provincial government on Monday, Diomba said that over 245 classrooms had been destroyed. Gaza agriculture has also taken a major hit, with 32,000 hectares of rice, maize and vegetables regarded as lost.

About 100 soldiers of the National Civil Protection Unit (UNAPROC) are now in Xai-Xai, starting on the post-flood clean-up. This involves removing tree trunks, dead animals, and all other manner of detritus left behind by the retreating waters.

Some Chokwe residents, living in relatively tall, modern houses, ignored official advice to leave, and have been sleeping on their rooftops for the past week. Apparently they had stocked up on food, and decided to stay in order to protect their possessions against looters.

The Incomati river in Maputo province is also dangerously swollen, and remains above flood alert level (five metres) at Magude. The river has fallen gradually from 5.82 metres on Sunday to 5.45 metres on Tuesday.

The largest river in the country, the Zambezi, remains above alert level on its lower reaches. At Caia on Tuesday it was measured at 6.07 metres, more than a metre above alert level. This was the same level as on Monday.

Further downstream, at Marromeu, where the alert level is 4.75 metres, the Zambezi continued to rise, from 5.7 metres on Sunday to 5.91 metres on Tuesday.

Discharges from the Cahora Bassa dam could increase the flood risk on the Zambezi. The discharges rose from 1,900 to 3,295 cubic metres a second between 22 and 28 January, before falling back to 2,800 cubic metres a second on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, torrential rain has been falling north of the Zambezi. In the city of Nampula, almost 200 millimetres of rain fell between Monday and Tuesday. The figure for Quelimane, capital of Zambezia province, was 140 millimetres in the same period.

According to the local INGC office, the number of houses destroyed by the rains in Zambezia since December has risen to 447.

One piece of good news is that Cyclone Felleng, which swept across the Indian Ocean towards Madagascar over the past few days, is now predicted to turn southwards and is unlikely to enter the Mozambique Channel. According to the projections made by the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC), Felleng will affect the weather on the eastern coast of the island, but will not make landfall.

Instead, by Friday the cyclone is forecast to be half way between Madagascar and Reunion, and heading southwards over the open ocean.

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