In 2000 IRC were asked to help as part of a UK response to the massive floods which devastated Mozambique. IRC boat teams were deployed around the River Save and latterly to the River Buzie. During the early days on the Save, IRC were transporting sufficient food to feed 2000 persons per day.
14 member rescue team
The 2000 Mozambique flood was a natural disaster that occurred in February and March 2000. The catastrophic flooding was caused by heavy rainfall that lasted for five weeks and made many homeless.
The floods began on 8 February with a lot of rain across South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland. Mozambique received the most rainfall, the capital Maputo was flooded. Torrential rain continued to the 11th of February, in Mozambique’s Limpopo Valley, the banks of the Limpopo River burst, causing severe flood damage; residents of the area were struck with dysentery. On 22 February, a tropical Cyclone hit the Mozambican coast near Beira. On February 27, flash floods overwhelmed low farmlands around Chokwe and Xai-Xai. It was the worst flood in the Mozambique in 50 years.
From the outset this was to be a start, stop, start, stop mission. It would prove to be one of the most frustrating, physically hardest, mentally most infuriating and yet possibly most worthwhile trips for IRC.
The media coverage of the evolving event was at times both graphic and informative. In these early days, many calls were received from members, the public and the media, asking why we were not mobilising to help. By the end of February it was becoming clear that this situation was changing for the worse and that help was now being asked for. Contact was established between IRC and DFID with a view to a possible intervention. IRC would start its mobilisation on the 1st March 2000 and would meet with the DFID team at Manston in Kent on the afternoon of the 2nd March 2000.
The IRC Team arrived at Manston with only a few minutes to spare and were almost immediately briefed on the situation. This brief formed a vital first link for the team, as many had little or no knowledge as to what DFID were hoping to achieve in the next few weeks. It set guidelines for all and gave the team the impression that the Government, as well as many others were wishing them well. More frustration as the visas for other teams were not available and the decision was taken to stand down this part of the group and have them follow on the next day flight. As this was being implemented, the visas arrived and were quite literally thrown onto the plane. This initial Group, DFID, IRC and the Fire Service would form a reasonably strong bond. The flight time was long, but the crew of the Aleutian 76 tried to make it as comfortable as possible. Athens, Jeda and Mombasa for fuel and then to Maputo. We did hear from media broadcasts that the situation appeared to be getting better, but that a further storm was due to hit the area.
On arrival we unloaded the plane in record time and were keen to make a start. We were up and ready to go at 0700hrs. At a meeting, we stressed the point that the DFID team should be moved to the North as soon as possible, as no help has been deployed to that area. Rapid deployment is our best way forward.
At the airport all our kit has been sorted and we are trying to manifest what DFID has sent out on this first plane.
We return to the main co-ordination centre for a full meeting at 1030hrs; RAPID, BIRD and many others from various Countries are in attendance. All control will be by INGC (national disaster control group). There appear to be lots of boats, all sizes and with skilled and unskilled crews. The water level is reported to be dropping. It is agreed that of those present, two initial response groups will be formed – DFID and the non aligned NGOs. Reports indicate a lack of fuel up north and little usable intelligence on casualty figures and resources. There is a need for evacuation or feeding on site around the SAVE delta, but not rescue. This is reported as a remote inaccessible area, only capable of being reached by air. Boats and crews would have to be sent and left in this remote location. The district around the River Buzi is cut off and food and medical supplies are required. After a short discussion, Martin and I agree to push for this area and we convince the others that the DFID group should travel to BEIRA.
A Belgian C130 arrives which has an RAF exchange pilot on board. He agrees to take the first part of the DFID group North on the first flight next day.
We are in BEIRA by 0940hrs and have the plane unloaded within minutes. All are ready to go. A couple from each (Fire Service, IRC and DFID) start to look for contacts and co-ordination centres. We start to try to find flights for assessment. Anne Marie is sent on a small plane over the Zambezi area. Glen is going by helicopter to the SAVE. He should be able to air recce the BUZI on this same flight. John links up with Medicine Du Monde and looks for a camp site and base location. The fire service look for warehouse accommodation at the airport and try to locate any local groups with information. Martin has found where the UNDAC team are based but initially has little luck in being tasked from them. Anne Marie reports little work required around the area she has visited. John has a possible camp site and also a launch site for the boats. This makes work on the BUZI possible from BEIRA. Martin uses all his skill to try and convince those in the positions of influence to let us start work sooner rather than later. This is a slow process which shows little result after many hours. The second part of the DFID group arrive and we help unload and put all the additional kit in store. Around this time Martin gets agreement from the INGC for us to work in the BUZI area.
We start to plan and sort out stores. UNDAC have agreed that it is best to split the group, thus maximising our impact in the early stages. Following a team leaders meeting we agree that one part (IRC) working on the SAVE and the second part (RNLI, UKFSSAR) working on the BUZI is the best solution. Martin also wants to try and drive one Landrover Discovery to the SAVE. John A. agrees to go with him on this trip.
The boats and the rest of IRC will shuttle down on a small BUFFALO aircraft, which is being used by WFP. At this time Glen, who has been out to the SAVE, returns and agrees that we can find useful work but that we may require to move to a remote area to access the river. Our team morale is good.
We get to the airport early but, as all the transport disappears, we have to use taxis to get our fuel.
The Discovery will not be driven down as it has been recommitted in town. 100 gallons of petrol are purchased for work on the SAVE. We have been given permission for the first flight. At SAVE we meet Jim from CARE. He is able to tell us that some food is getting out by river, but that it is well downstream and that it is far from sufficient for the needs. He can take us by vehicle to the area for a recon. He does not think that a team could stay in the area as it is remote from all modern facilities. There are some 15,000 people affected in the area. Approximately 2.5 tons of food is being moved per week. This will feed 2500 people for one day. They are in groups of 20-80 and do not wish to leave their land. They say the water will drop and if they leave they may lose all that they have. He can do nothing more to help.
Glen and I travel to the location, which is approx. 50km by road and then approx. 40km on tracks. Food can be delivered to the track end and will be carried by local labour to the river some ¾ – 1 km distant. This is under the Food For Work Programme. Medical needs are not being met and little assessment if any has been carried out. It is mosquito heaven, with snakes, crocodiles and hippopotami thrown in for good measure. The river is fast, unmarked, changing every day and has not been navigated further than a few kilometres in each direction. (IRC would extend this travel distance to over 70 kilometres.) We return and bring forward the team. Base camp is established in the dark, in a small clearing near to the end of track.
Up at dawn and make up the boats to be used. We carry the boats the last ¾ – 1 kilometre to the water and are ready to start. We test the boats and assess the river. It is possible but interesting. Just as the sun gets up the food arrives. The boats are loaded and we get 6 out on the river. They have difficulty in getting into the main channel, due to the shallow rivulets and sand bars.
Brute force, a will to get there and the need to get mobile to cool down ensure that they are able to get out. I head out with 3 others, 1 from CARE, 1 from JESUS ALIVE and a local to try and identify a second launch site. This takes hours and is only partially successful. The site located cannot be reached by land and food would have to be air dropped in. Some work would also be required to open out the landing area on the water side. We decide to try and use the first location for as long as possible.
The food is taken out in small amounts, over the sand bars and is passed to larger boats out on the river.
The sun is almost cooking us as a thermometer cracks. It can only register up to 130° F.
Loading and transfer of the bags is a real slog in this heat and we rotate crews and landing teams.
On the initial runs, only small groups of approx. family size were located. As word spread larger groups of up to 200 started to form. This was the first success, as once a group became 100 or over, the helicopters would drop food direct. We now actively try to enlarge groups. Medical evacuation is also carried out, initially to our base and then by JESUS ALIVE to the nearest medical point.
By evening we are hot, tired and very happy with the work. The weather changes and we catch part of a tropical storm. Our camp is changed to a mud bath. We have a minimum of 4-6 inches of water on the ground and up to 12 inches of mud below this. These are the worst conditions we have had to operate under. By late evening one member is ill and for safety is repatriated to SAVE, for onward transportation to BEIRA. We think it may be the heat, but other possibilities cannot be ruled out. Within hours a second member starts to shiver and things do not look too good. He will be sent out as soon as possible.
Ready to start but once again must hold on as food aid for delivery is in short supply. It arrives with the sun. Contact is made with Martin and following a long discussion we decide to pull out tomorrow, from this location.
Consideration of group sizes, weather, medical, safety, dropping water conditions, greater availability of helicopters and possible relief are all part of this process.
The team work on and feed over 2000 people, medivac 5 sick and injured, pull further small communities into large (over 100) groups and finally run out of food. The Portuguese Marines arrive and say they can take over the operation tomorrow.
Boat handlers from CARE and JESUS ALIVE are also instructed, with the boats, generators and tools being donated to ensure that if food gets in tomorrow, prior to the Marines, it can be distributed. Most of the team are willing to stay on and ensure that the hand over is co-ordinated but, due to transport difficulties, this will not be possible. Late at night we must break camp and start the move out, once more working in the dark. With no shelter we spend the rest of the night in the open.
At SAVE airport we meet the Prime Minister of Mozambique. He thanks us for our help and discusses the medium term problems still to be tackled. He is happy that we have started to beat the short term requirements and also does not think that there will be a long term need. Once again the heat is a problem as the sun comes up. We see local labour being used to enlarge the airport apron, under the Food For Work scheme.
The RNLI and UKFSSAR have managed to send out some boats to the BUZI. This raises our spirits.
At a meeting we are told that due to possible changing weather circumstances, further flooding may occur and any home flight will not be before Wednesday the 15thMarch.
The arrival of the Royal Navy helped to settle things down. They arrived and got straight into the job. They also planned to get further help to the area where we had been. This was a great boost for IRC as we were unsure from reports what was currently happening. We tried to help with whatever DFID requested and were delighted to be asked to do a trip on the BUZI. We were finally able to sent two small teams to this area to help crew the RNLI boats which were doing the work.
All comes together for a return flight on the 15th March. The team are stood down within the UK on Thursday 16th March 2000.
This has been a first for IRC, in that DFID had an active role within the mission. It was a very worthwhile trip and for our part we feel that we were able to do all that was asked of us.
To feature any part of our stories in your own publications, please contact Julie Ryan on firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 7786 881 908