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NEWS: World ignores disasters in southern Africa

By Katharine Vincent and Tracy Cull (Kulima Integrated Development Solutions, South Africa)

Everyone remembers the 2000 floods in Mozambique, and the tragically iconic image of a woman being forced to give birth whilst clinging onto the high branches of a tree.  How many people around the world know that the beginning of 2013 has brought with it floods of a similar magnitude to Mozambique and the region?

The 2000 floods prompted government action on disaster preparedness and risk reduction.  The National Disaster Management Institute (Instituto de Gestão de Calamidades – INGC) has representation at provincial and district levels, and actively encourages disaster preparation, as well as monitoring hazards that may precipitate disasters.  Heavy rains began falling in the middle January.  The inter-governmental National Disaster Management Committee (CTGC) issued an orange alert, meaning that hydro-meteorological conditions were under close surveillance by the National Emergency Operations Centres (CENOE), which was upgraded to a red alert 10 days later, following persistent heavy rain, and leading to full emergency recovery operations commencing.

Flooding of the Incomati and Limpopo basins, in the southern region of Mozambique, have led to over 40 deaths and 150,000 people displaced to temporary shelters.  Additional people in the region have been affected by damage to infrastructure, including roads, power lines, classrooms and other buildings.  Whilst these numbers may have been worse had Mozambique not taken a proactive approach to disaster risk reduction, no amount of preparedness can prevent there being some need for some emergency relief and recovery.

The government of Mozambique has responded using planned contingency funds, and partners have supported the distribution of food and non-food items, but additional support is required in the areas of shelter, water, health and logistics (including supply of medicines, mosquito nets and oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal disease).

The UK has committed £800,000 of emergency aid, but the UN Resident Coordinator points out that when US$5 million was requested in advance of the situation, donors were slow to respond.

With disaster response already stretched, heavy rains are now falling in the north of the country, affecting the provinces of Zambezia, Niassa and Cabo Delgado.

Mozambique is not alone in experiencing climate-related disasters: a category three tropical cyclone is moving off the east coast of Madagascar, leading to warnings being issued there.  Flooding is also occurring elsewhere in southern Africa, including in Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Despite the magnitude of these floods and the large number of people that have been adversely affected, there has been very little coverage of these events in the international press outside of the region.  Clearly this is not an aversion to “negative” stories, which have oft been thought to increase sales (with the American journalists’ saying “if it bleeds, it leads” encapsulating this trend).  Australia is another country currently suffering floods – but media coverage here has been far greater (and wider).

Media coverage is essential in the case of climate hazards.  It raises awareness, which is an essential prerequisite for supportive action – the release of funds and technical support to the worst affected places.

Image courtesy of Flickr/Bachmont

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