Mozambique Pleads for More Help, More Helicopters

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - American emergency aid arrived in Mozambique early Wednesday, as the leader of the flood-stricken southern African country appealed for more help to deal with an estimated one-million displaced people.

The U.S. and Britain are sending helicopters to reinforce the work being done by the exhausted crews of five South African army helicopters who have helped save 8,000 Mozambicans from rising floodwaters caused by three weeks of torrential rain.

Tens of thousands of stranded people are still clinging to trees or huddled on rooftops and high ground. Many have been trapped since Sunday and have not eaten for days, according to relief agencies.

Regional reports warn of the possibility of more flooding hitting south and central Mozambique from Zimbabwe and Botswana, where much of the heavy rainfall of the last week fell.

Shortly after an American C-17 military aircraft laden with water containers, blankets, plastic sheeting and high energy biscuits landed in Maputo, President Joaquim Chissano told reporters that one million people were estimated to be "on the move" as a result of the catastrophe.

"We say thank you for all the help we have received but we are asking for more. Our people have nothing, and the world can do more," he said.

Rescue aircraft are still the most urgently required items. World Food Program spokesperson Brenda Berton said the U.S. was sending two helicopters, and Britain would send another four to help the rescue efforts.

Britain's Department for International Development said the helicopters had been chartered in the region and would go into action immediately.

South Africa is also considering sending more military helicopters. Five South African craft have flown on almost daily missions for the past three weeks, ferrying food and medical supplies, and rescuing stranded people.

"Only helicopters can help people who are hanging on the top of the houses ... there are people who are on the roofs of huts, in the trees waiting for rescue," Chissano said.

"We call for air force helicopters to see what they can do today, because if they do not do it today there will be a loss of life. This evening there will be no more roofs."

The chairman of the country's parliamentary assembly, Eduardo Mulembue, said the disaster was "unparalleled in Mozambican history."

The U.S., which pledged $7 million worth of food and $3 million in other aid Tuesday, denied that its aid contribution had been insignificant.

Asked to respond to criticism in African media about the "paltry" extent of U.S. help, State Department James Rubin told a press briefing: "We always wish we could do more, and we're doing a substantial amount to try to ease humanitarian ... crisis there.

"This is a flood that has caused damage that we're responding to, and we certainly hope that our friends and allies in Africa don't have the views that you attributed to some critics."

Rubin said USAID, the government agency responsible for aid worldwide, was sending a seven-person disaster assistance response team to supplement a 14-member team already in Mozambique.

Steven Koenig, spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Maputo, told CNSNews.com Wednesday said American help "actually did start right at the beginning" of the disaster.

"What the U.S. government was trying to do was to get aid whether food or transport here as quickly as possible. Both the [Mozambican] prime minister and the president expressed their appreciation for that aid."

Koenig said half of the supplies flown in today was offloaded in Maputo, and the rest taken to the city of Beira, further north.

Emergency talks in Geneva on Tuesday resulted in several donor countries pledging $13.5 million in aid. The World Food Program has launched a $6.8 million emergency aid operation.

Britain sent a military reconnaissance team, rescue personnel, rubber boats with outboard motors, life rafts and emergency response vehicles. Britain has also cancelled Mozambique's debt to it in its entirety and urged other nations to do the same.

Eleven British charities have teamed up to appeal for donations to help the flood-stricken country. " We're appealing to the British public to help ordinary people caught up in this disaster," a spokesman said.

Botswana, although itself affected by the floods, has promised Mozambique fuel to help rescue work.

Aid agencies are not estimating deaths at this stage, but fear that predicted water-borne diseases could cost thousands of lives. Severe diarrhea is already affecting young children at emergency centers.

The devastation comes at a time Mozambique had appeared to be finally recovering from the crippling effects of a 16-year civil war, which ended in 1992.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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