Statement to Dáil by Minister of State Liz O'Donnell, T.D. Tuesday 29th February 2000
The Government welcomes this opportunity to update the House as to the current situation in Mozambique. Having made such dramatic progress in their efforts to overcome the civil war that had ravaged their country for seventeen years, the people of Mozambique are now being subjected to one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region in half a century.
On the fourth of February, torrential rains began falling on the southern provinces of Mozambique. In just three days, from the fourth to the sixth of February, more rain fell on Maputo than would normally fall in an entire six month rainy season. The heavy rains pushed rivers to their highest levels on record and caused many to burst their banks, flooding the surrounding areas, washing away homes and cutting off access by road to many regions. While the process of gathering information was initially impeded by the lack of access, it was clear that thousands of people had been affected and left homeless. Main road and railway lines were severed, with widespread damage to other infrastructure. On 10 February the Government of Mozambique declared a state of emergency and requested international assistance. Initially the areas worst affected by the heavy rains and resultant flooding were Maputo and Matola cities. However, with the rising water levels in the Limpopo and Save rivers, flooding began to affect much of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane provinces in the south as well as central portions of Mozambique, leading to a drastic increase in the needs for emergency rescue and relief assistance.
A relief operation quickly got underway. The World Food Programme, in partnership with the Government of Mozambique, initiated a programme of urgent food delivery to people who had lost their homes and crops and/or been displaced by the flooding. They launched a dedicated air-bridge to airlift food and non-food items to those stranded in the flood affected areas of in Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane provinces. The Government of Mozambique began setting up collective centres in schools and factories to house the homeless in the cities of Maputo and Matola.
The international community also responded generously with donations coming in from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Spain to name but a few. South Africa, as the regional military and economic power provided logistical support including military helicopters to help in the rescue effort.
However, just as the relief operation was beginning to make progress, Cyclone Eline hit the coast of Mozambique on the 21st of February aggravating an already critical flood situation. The helicopters that had been being used to airlift food and emergency supplies to populations sheltering in collective centres, were now being called into service to rescue the people themselves from the rapid advance of water. We have all seen the pictures on television of helicopters winching people to safety from roofs and tree tops. It is currently estimated that approximately three hundred thousand people have been directly affected by the floods with as many as eighty thousand people needing to be evacuated. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimate that seventy people are dead or missing. These numbers could rise, however, since certain isolated areas remain inaccessible to ground assessment teams. The rescue operation is continuing with more aircraft arriving today.
The Irish government has been to the forefront in providing humanitarian aid to the victims of this disaster. We coordinated our response with the aid flowing in from other countries and concentrated on meeting the priority needs of the thousands of homeless. Since the flooding began four weeks ago, Ireland has provided four hundred thousand pounds in emergency humanitarian assistance. This money is in addition to the ongoing development assistance we are providing to Mozambique as part of our Development Aid programme.
An initial emergency allocation of £160,000 was made on the 21st of February in response to the devastation caused by the first lot of flooding. The money was provided to the World Food Programme towards the cost of their air-bridge operation in Inhambane Province. Money was also provided to Concern, one of the Irish agencies operational on the ground in Mozambique, for an emergency relief project in Maputo. These allocations were made following advice from our Embassy in Maputo who are continuing to monitor the crisis. Indeed, the Embassy took the iniative in organising an aerial survey of the Province of Inhambane, which had not been assessed prior to this, in order to investigate reports of flooding throughout the province. Embassy staff were accompanied by the Provincial Governor of Inhambane on this survey.
Following the devastation caused as result of Cyclone Eline, I announced a further package of assistance yesterday amounting to £240,000. Part of this second allocation will go to WFP to assist them further in what has now become a rescue operation. We are also funding fuel to allow the South African Air Force deliver emergency goods by helicopter to the affected areas.
As I mentioned before Ireland Aid is engaged in a long-term development partnership with Mozambique. The partnership commenced in 1996. Expenditure under this programme was £6.4m in 1999 and the budget for this year is £7.4m.
The programme involves support for national-level programmes (including support for debt relief) and regional development programmes in two provinces. One of the regional development programmes is in Inhambane - one of the provinces most affected by the current emergency.
Programme activities to date have helped to develop both infrastructure and institutional capacity. This will have enhanced the capacity of the Mozambican authorities to deal with the current emergency.
In addition, Ireland Aid staff in both Inhambane and the national capital (Maputo) are currently working actively with the Mozambican authorities and other donors in planning the response to the current emergency; this morning, our Head of Mission in Maputo, Justin Carroll, has travelled to Inhambane, as part of an emergency needs assessment mission. Their advice has ensured that the emergency funding of £400,000 provided to date by the Irish Government has been allocated to where it can be most effective - this funding is in addition to the programme expenditure referred to above.
From this point on, programme expenditure will be administered with maximum flexibility to help Mozambique to deal with the emergency situation. As soon as the situation has stabilised, priority will be given to reconstruction and recovery activities as well as to the ongoing programme of supporting Mozambique's long-term development. It is important to keep that long-term focus to our efforts to ensure that we are addressing the fundamental problem and not just its immediate symptoms.