Flooding in Mozambique, not a repeat of 2000 – 2001Posted: January 27, 2013
In 2000 and 2001, Mozambique suffered catastrophic floods that killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands along the Limpopo River valley. For a country that was (and still is) one of the least-developed in the world, the floods overwhelmed the capacity of the government to respond and many humanitarian organizations, with images of Mozambicans clinging to trees to escape the waters, rushed into action. This winter, Mozambique has seen similar floods with the waters of the Limpopo cresting at 9.8 meters, just shy of the record levels (10+ meters) seen in 2000. In addition to the Limpopo river, the Save and Zambezi Rivers are also flooded. The humanitarian response has not been as urgent, but the death tolls and displacement due to flooding have also been less than they were a dozen years ago. There is another change worth discussing since the 2000-2001 floods.
Mozambique was once one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. After three decades of conflict beginning in the 1960s and lasting until the signing of peace accords in 1992, every province of the country and 123 out of the country’s 128 districts was contaminated with landmines. A herculean effort by the government of Mozambique and the international community has cleared all but 23 districts of their landmines, including all of Gaza Province where the Limpopo River Basin lies (All Africa). Below are two maps, one which shows the river locations better and the other which shows the provinces better.
After the 2000 – 2001 floods, many known minefields were flooded and because some of the mines used in Mozambique were plastic, they were carried away by the floodwaters and deposited downstream, essentially creating entirely new minefields where none had existed before. Handicap International conducted a series of mine risk education seminars for persons displaced by the floods and the National Demining Institute re-surveyed the flood plains to determine and define the newly affected areas.
The earlier floods and the response to them necessarily delayed the demining process in Mozambique, but this year, with demining as advanced as it is in the country, the likelihood of further delays as a result of the new floods is unlikely. In the Save River basin, the provinces of Manica and Sofala (on the northern banks of the river) and Inhambane (on the southern bank) will need to be monitored and depending upon where the remaining minefields are in those provinces, new mine risk education and survey may be needed (Sofala, Manica and Inhambane are currently the provinces with the most area, 12 million square meters combined, affected by landmines). In Tete Province, near the headwaters of the Zambezi River, there almost 2 million square meters of mine-affected lands, but the flooding on the Zambezi has been closer to the coast where Zambezia Province (on the northern bank) has been cleared of landmines and Inhambane Province (the southern bank, see above) lie.
So, despite this year’s floods and the reminders of the floods of 2000 and 2001, the long term impact on the country, especially in terms of landmine contamination is likely to be minimal. This is another example of how demining can benefit a country in the long term, providing not just relief and development opportunities in the mine-affected areas, but preventing other areas from becoming mine affected.
January 27, 2013
Michael P. Moore