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  • Christine Chumbler
    Jan 30, 2003
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      Authorities Take Stock Of Damage Caused By
      Floods

      African Church Information Service
      January 27, 2003
      Posted to the web January 29, 2003

      Reported By Hamilton Vokhiwa
      Blantyre

      Authorities in Malawi are taking stock of damage caused by floods,
      following heavy rains that pounded the country recently.

      The extraordinarily heavy rains occasioned by a cyclone named Defina,
      caused widespread damage to infrastructure and agricultural land. A
      number of roads, bridges and railway lines were damaged. Large areas
      of
      crop fields were washed away, killing at least 10 people and
      displacing
      tens of thousands of people, now in need of relief aid.

      A wash-away of a bridge along Zalewa highway caused a major disruption
      of traffic between Blantyre and Lilongwe, but has since been partly
      repaired to allow traffic to pass.

      Road traffic authorities said three people went missing when the
      bridge
      across Rivi-rivi river was swept away, following two days of incessant
      rains.

      More bridges were washed away throughout the country, rendering a
      number of areas inaccessible to motor vehicles.

      This caused President Bakili Muluzi to declare a state of emergency.
      It
      was the second time the president was making such a declaration in a
      span of less than one year.

      In February last year, President Muluzi declared a state of emergency
      following widespread food shortages that led to deaths of hundreds of
      people, especially children.

      The Commission for Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation,
      said in total, up to 15, 000 people have been displaced by the current
      floods.

      Lucius Chikuni is the head of the Commission. He said work had started
      to
      bring food and tents to the displaced people, who had sought refuge in
      schools and churches in affected regions.

      The most affected areas include Karonga and Rumphi in the northern
      region, Lilongwe, Salima and Ntcheu in central part of the country,
      and
      Machinga and Balaka in the south.

      In Ntcheu district, the Malawi Television featured a cemetery where
      the
      raging flood waters washed away coffins, leaving the graves open. Some
      bodies were recovered several kilometers away.

      Western aid agencies have promised to step up relief assistance,
      following the declaration of a state of emergency by President Muluzi.

      A representative of a western diplomatic mission based in Lilongwe,
      said
      that the declaration would pave way for a suitable response by western
      aid
      agencies.

      World Food Programme (WFP) information officer, Abbelgadir Musallam,
      said his organisation was at pains to try to reach some areas in the
      districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje in lower Shire Valley. He said they
      were
      forced to divert relief food items to other accessible sites more than
      20
      kilometers away from the strategic distribution centres.

      "We have no money to airlift the relief items. Our movements have been
      delayed and we don't know what is happening to those people."

      When making the declaration, President Muluzi said the costs of
      repairs
      could be expected to run into millions of Kwachas.

      District officials and representatives of non-governmental
      organisations
      have issued urgent appeals for food, medicines, blankets, tents and
      sheets for the displaced people.

      Over the past few weeks, teams of field workers from non-governmental
      organisations, the department of disaster preparedness and relief
      rehabilitation, as well as the international organisation of doctors
      without
      borders have been forcing their way across washed out roads to reach
      the
      displaced people.

      District Commissioner for Salima, Gift Rapozo, said about 2,300 people
      in
      18 villages were isolated and that government officials including those
      from
      his office were failing to reach the displaced people.

      "We have come up with the number after estimating the village
      population,
      but we don't really know how many more people are isolated. It might
      be
      possible that others left the areas when they sensed the dangerous
      situation," he said.

      Shadrick Matsimbe, who is the chairman of the Road Users Association,
      said his organisation had difficulties to reach an isolated area
      because a
      bridge had been swept away.

      "People are starving in the villages as we are failing to supply them
      with
      relief items because of the poor condition of the roads and bridges
      leading
      to those areas," he pointed out.

      Religious organisations were mobilising relief aid to the affected
      areas.
      One of them, the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), donated
      maize
      flour and cow peas to 1000 households displaced by floods in Salima.

      Ironically, the floods have come after governments in the southern
      Africa
      region were advised to plan for another season of little rainfall, and
      possibly, a terrible drought.

      *****

      Harare police break up
      mayor's meeting

      Zimbabwean police have fired tear gas at
      hundreds of residents of the capital, Harare, as
      they entered the office of the mayor.

      Mayor Elias Mudzuri, who is from the opposition
      Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), says
      he was trying to inform his constituents about
      water shortages.

      He told the BBC's Focus
      on Africa programme
      that this was the only
      way he could
      communicate with
      rate-payers because state-owned media
      refuse to interview him or even carry his
      adverts.

      Mr Mudzuri was arrested two weeks ago for
      holding an illegal meeting.

      Earlier this month, the government announced
      that it would introduce governors to run Harare
      and the second city of Bulawayo, which both
      have MDC mayors.

      'Police state'

      Under tough new security laws, the police
      have wide powers to break up meetings of
      more than five people.

      But Mr Mudzuri said the meeting was going to
      be held in his office and so he did not need
      police authorisation.

      "I hold meetings every five minutes with more
      than five people," he said.

      "It's becoming a police
      state."

      He also said that the
      police were invited to
      the meeting and had
      originally given their
      permission.
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