(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Disaster contingency plans not yet finalised

[Mozambique] Flood damaged road
UNICEF

As the rainy season begins in Mozambique, aid organisations and the government are still to complete contingency plans to help cope with the possible repeat of the flood disasters that have hit the country for two-years running.

Johannes Giorgis, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) advisor to the government's disaster management authority - the INGC - told IRIN that the government was in the process of finalising its national contingency plan and that it was expected to be ready by mid-December.

But some humanitarian and diplomatic sources in Mozambique told IRIN that although it was "commendable" that the government was drawing up a contingency plan, they felt mid-December was too late.

"This plan should have been finalised by now and made public. Government at all levels should have known by now what it is they need to do and how it needs to be done in case of any kind of extreme weather," one diplomatic source said. "By now when people ask the government what is the contingency plan, they should be able to say 'Okay this is what we have planned'. A good contingency plan is a vital part of early warning but it needs to be ready at least by now."

According to Giorgis: "The plan will be based on information gathered both on a district and provincial level. It will have input from a wide variety of organisations including the United Nations and other non-governmental agencies. But it will be the official government plan." He added that, "this does not mean that agencies and organisations have themselves not started planning and pre-positioning items that they anticipate might be needed".

In its final report on flooding earlier this year, the Office of the Resident Coordinator for the United Nations in Mozambique said that over 200,000 people had been displaced, with over 500,000 affected.

Giorgis said that climatologists had predicted "normal" rainfall for much of Mozambique. "But normal does not rule out the possibility of problems," he said. "In some areas the ground is still quite saturated and so any additional rainfall could result in inundation and not necessarily flooding. Secondly the thing is normal could also mean slightly less rain."

In its latest ministerial brief, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Food Security Network said that according to climate experts the SADC region was likely to experience normal to above normal rainfall in the 2001/2002 season. "The possibility of above normal rains forecast for the first half of the season in the entire Limpopo River Basin could result in above normal river levels," the brief said. "However, normal rainfall is forecast in these same areas during the second part of the season, when flooding typically occurs."

It warned that there was a "possibility" of above normal rains in the lower Zambezi River Basin, including Kariba and Cabora Bassa dam areas, with the "enhanced possibility" of above normal rainfall in the upper Zambezi River Basin. The brief noted that the situation should be "monitored closely".

Jonathan Cauldwell, from the UN's children's fund in Maputo told IRIN that UNICEF had already made some preparations. "UNICEF has ordered US $1.4 million of contingency health, education and water and sanitation for pre-positioning in 2001," Cauldwell said. He explained that "preparedness actions" for the floods earlier this year, by UNICEF and its partner agency the UN's World Food Programme allowed for a "rapid response".

Cauldwell said that UNICEF had started incorporating emergency programmes into its national programming. "Staff have been trained in preparedness and response to issues to ensure an integrated response to emergencies," Cauldwell noted. "The important lesson learned is that response to emergencies should not be short term. This would mean disaster prone areas would be targeted within our overall response strategies - HIV/AIDS, girls education, early childhood development and care."

"The ultimate aim is that the situation of for example children and women in high risk areas has been sufficiently strengthened so that coping mechanisms are stronger, allowing them to respond better to extreme disaster situations rather than a fly in response and leave," he said.

Joao Manja from WFP in Maputo told IRIN that the agency would start pre-positioning food at the end of November. "By the end of this month we would have started placing food in key areas to deal with the probability of any flooding," Manja said.

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