CHIAQUELANE, Mozambique (February 5, 2013) — A small crowd has gathered on the edge of the Xai Xai bridge in Mozambique’s Gaza province. The group watch anxiously as a Navy rescue team moors a boat of people who have been forced to flee their flooded homes.
Officers help the passengers out of the boat. They carry their most precious possessions—clothes, pots, chickens, a piglet—all they were able to gather in a moment of panic as the water rose.
Miranda Nachava climbs out of the boat, visibly distressed. “I don’t feel good about leaving,” she says, “because some people died there.”
Some 250,000 people have been affected by the floods in Mozambique, and an estimated 150,000 have been displaced.
Chokwe is one of the hardest-hit districts. The center of town—usually bustling with markets, cars and pedestrians—now lies under water. A few citizens deftly wade through the water carrying goods on their heads, trying to salvage their belongings. Others camp on top of the tallest buildings, waiting for the water to recede.
But most people left this town after a red alert was issued by the government.
Chiaquelane is the site of the nearest relief camp, some 18 miles from Chokwe. As of January 28, an estimated 70,000 people had fled to Chiaquelane, with thousands seeking refuge at the accommodation camp. The area was selected, says Chokwe District Administrator Alberto Libombo, “because it is on higher ground and has eight water points.”
Throughout the day, these water points see a constant queue of displaced persons collecting clean water.
“In an emergency like this, people need the provision of basics, like food, water, shelter and hygiene,” says UNICEF Deputy Representative Roberto De Bernardi. The Government of Mozambique, United Nations agencies and NGOs are working around the clock to ensure that these basics are provided.
With a growing number of displaced persons come health and protection issues. “When you have a big group of people living in dire conditions,” explains Humanitarian Country Team Working Group Chair Lola Castro, “we have to make sure that we have adequate water, sanitation and health assistance and that they are well fed and don’t develop problems like cholera or malnutrition.”
The health and well-being of children are of particular concern at camps such as Chiaquelane. As part of the response, UNICEF is providing high-nutrition biscuits, mosquito nets and tents for medical services. It is also working with authorities to find lost children and to protect children and women from any form of abuse.
UNICEF is also supporting a mobile unit that travels around the camp and surrounding areas providing residents with education about good hygiene and sanitation, breastfeeding and HIV prevention. In the evenings, people can gather around a projector screen to watch education videos about these topics.
Sixteen-year-old Salatiel waits patiently for his name to be called off a list of the most vulnerable households at the camp. He breathes a sigh of relief as his name is called, and collects a large bag of basic household items.
Salatiel came to the camp with nothing but the clothes he is wearing. He says he was informed about the floods and immediately came to the camp with a friend. “I don’t have money to go and check on my family and see where they are,” he says. “I have tried to call my aunt, but the phone was off. I don’t know where they are.”
For Salatiel and others like him, the UNICEF-supplied kit, which includes mats, pots, pans, cups, cutlery and blankets, is a welcome relief. According to UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Mariane Muzzi, the kits are meant for people like Salatiel who have come from poor homes and now have absolutely nothing: “These kits are basically like an emergency kit to help these families get through the next few weeks here at the camp.”
As night falls over the camp, a steady stream of people walk into the busy maze of others who have lost their homes, as well as aid and emergency workers, to find a place to rest. But with the worst not over yet, and rescue and relief efforts continuing, more help is urgently needed to help save lives.