After the floods in Mozambique, it's time to build the future

By Samora Nuvunga

"I've lost everything because of the floods and that's why I don't think of returning to my origin. We are all tired for suffering from flooding. When we came to live at this center we knew that the water from the Zambezi River was unsafe for drinking, but we had no alternatives. Thanks to Oxfam, we now have clean and good-quality drinking water."

Maria Paulo, Chueza Temporary Camp resident

It is very hard to forget the trauma of the past but easy to rebuild hope for a better future. This is probably the most appropriate description of the emotions flowing in the hearts of thousands of people directly affected by the floods in January 2008 in Mozambique. The cyclical floods that have begun to occur are pushing people affected by them to look at climate change and their own vulnerability in a different way—and to change their approach for the future.

The government has announced the end of the emergency period, which means that efforts are now being focused on creating long-term sustainable services to help people living in the resettlement centers recover from the flooding.

It's time to build the future, say some in the temporary camps based in Marromeu, in Sofala Province, one of the most affected by the floods. It's time to reflect on the capacity local communities have to withstand the effects of drought and flood. In themselves, extreme weather events don't necessarily result in disasters. Disasters are often a consequence of human vulnerabilities—of people who have no choice but to live in dangerous locations, such as on flood plains or steep slopes prone to landslides.

According to official figures, the January flood displaced 115,000 people. In the provinces of Sofala, Zambezia, Tete, and Inhambane, many displaced people lost all their belongings, including houses, goods, and crops.

Oxfam is helping more than 48,000 people in the resettlement centers recover by providing things such as clean water, hygiene facilities, household utensils, plastic sheeting for shelter, and other materials for construction.

"We understand that the process of resettling people should be as flexible as possible, to provide motivation and the environment for the affected people not to return to their places of origins," said Michael Tizora, former head of Oxfam's humanitarian action program in Mozambique.

Oxfam has an operational base in Marromeu District, where a field team is assisting displaced people in the temporary camps of Chueza 1 and 2, Nhapirundo, Chapa 30, and Zona C, downstream of the Zambezi River and in the resettlement sites of Chupanga, Chiburiburi , and Amambos.

"Our need now is to get seeds to produce enough food in enough quantity to feed our families," said Paulino Chueza, the traditional head of Chueza center. "We promise the government not to go back to our houses, but we still need a lot of help and assistance to forget what happened and look forward."

In the district of Mutarara, Tete Province, where Oxfam has been operating, the program is helping farmers to recover their livelihoods in addition to providing a water and sanitation program that has targeted 30,000 people. In Tambara, in Manica Province, Oxfam has been working with Magariro, a local organization that is assisting 13,500 people with water and sanitation and supporting them in restarting their agricultural activities after the floods.

In almost all camps, people have basic necessities such as latrines, drinking water, health facilities, and schools for children. Oxfam recruited and trained local health promotion activists to assist beneficiaries in the proper use of these facilities and to promote good hygiene to avoid an outbreak of diseases like diarrhea. However, the future is still quite uncertain for most of the people. There are lessons to be learned from the floods of 2001, 2007, and 2008. The challenge now is to build local capacity to avoid the troubles caused by weather-related events and climate change.

Many people have lost everything, but not the sense of hope in changing the present and building the future. Positive change demands confidence, hope, and a lot of work.

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