Waves of disease spread after cyclone flooding

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The Independent Online

Cases of malaria - in normal times the biggest killer in Mozambique - have trebled since record rainfall and the violent onslaught of Cyclone Eline caused massive floods in the country, health experts said yesterday.

Cases of malaria - in normal times the biggest killer in Mozambique - have trebled since record rainfall and the violent onslaught of Cyclone Eline caused massive floods in the country, health experts said yesterday.

As the weather improved and the frequency of relief flights was stepped up - to convey tents and food but also hoes for peasants who have lost everything - aid workers were gaining a clearer picture of the needs of up to 300,000 Mozambicans who are now homeless.

Three weeks of rain followed on Tuesday and Wednesday by the passage of the cyclone have created a flood area the size of the Netherlands which has effectively cut the country in two.

As well as the worrying rise in cerebral malaria, due to mosquitoes hatching in flood-water areas, health experts are recording thousands of cases of diarrhoea and are concerned about the spread of cholera, meningitis, measles and scabies.

Dr Otilia Neves, head of the accident and emergency department at the Hospital Central in the capital, Maputo, said: "We are dealing with an epidemic of illnesses. The water is bad and due to many homes being destroyed by the floods, the conditions in which food is kept are often unhygienic."

She said that even though all the hospital's beds were full, it had enough drugs for the time being. "We have 250 malaria inpatients in the hospital now, as opposed to a normal figure of 100. That is a real pressure on our resources." Aid agencies said about 85,000 people in flood zones had received food parcels but there were still areas which remained inaccessible, three weeks after the rains began. They said some cases of malnutrition had been recorded.

Save The Children and Oxfam said they had begun sending "family kits" to three main storage points in Gaza - the worst affected province - for further distribution to remote areas as soon as possible. Each of the kits contains blankets, metal cutlery, aluminium pots, a hoe, an axe, a machete, a plastic bucket and a piece of tarpaulin - considered a starter pack for those who have lost everything.

Roy Trivedy, Save The Children's programme director, said the principle issue of concern now was the health of the 100,000 dispossessed people in Maputo and the estimated 300,000 who have lost everything in the rural areas. "Clean water, or water purification tablets, shelter and food are priorities at the moment," he said.

But considerable logistical problems remain. The £40m ($65m) aid appeal on Wednesday by the Mozambican government does not cover funding for the crucial South African helicopter drop operation - paid for jointly by Sweden and the Netherlands, whose pledge expires today.

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony which is the commonwealth's newest member country, has a population of 17 million spread over an area four times the size of the United Kingdom. Even though the country is accustomed to heavy rain, this year's has been the worst for 40 years. The flooding is known not to be over, either, due to continuing rain in neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe. Yesterday, Ann Clwyd, leading a four-strong delegation of the select committee on international development, left Mozambique after a five-day visit. She said she felt confident that the Government - which has so far sent nearly £800,000 to relieve the Mozambique flood disaster - would send more. "We responded quickly and there is more money to come. There is also now a very good argument for cancelling the remainder of Mozambique's debt. This disaster is not Mozambique's fault, and the country was doing so well," she said.

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