Friday, January 11, 2008

Mozambique Update: Flood Situation Set to Worsen; Power Supply Cut to Zimbabwe; Neighbours Under Threat

Flood Situation Set to Worsen

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Maputo)
11 January 2008

Moderate to heavy rainfall over much of Mozambique and in the neighbouring countries on Wednesday and Thursday is worsening the flood on the Zambezi, and threatens renewed flooding on the Buzi river.

According to the National Water Board (DNA), the level of the Zambezi at Tete city rose from 5.83 metres on Tuesday to 6.12 metres on Thursday. Flood alert level at Tete is five metres. Institutions in low lying parts of the city are closing their doors as the water laps at their entrances - the Tete provincial headquarters of the Mozambique Red Cross (CVM) is one of the bodies thus affected.

Further downstream, at Mutarara, the river was measured at 6.21 metres on Thursday, and the waters have invaded part of the district capital, Nhamayabue. The district administrator, Alexandre Faite, told the Maputo daily "Noticias", that the situation was extremely serious in the town, and in the administrative posts of Inhangoma, Charre and Doa.

The Mutarara flood victims have been evacuated to 23 accommodation centres, where paramedical teams are working to prevent any outbreaks of epidemics. "We have trained CVM activists in all the centres and have distributed kits of essential medicines", said Luisa Cumba, the Tete provincial director of health. "Medical staff are visiting the centres twice a week. We haven't recorded any deaths yet, and so far medical care is considered normal".

On the lower Zambezi, the river at Caia reached seven metres on Thursday - two metres above flood alert level. Officials insisted that the flood would not stop work on building the new bridge over the Zambezi at Caia.

Elias Paulo, director of the bridge construction office, told reporters that even if the Zambezi were to experience its worse floods ever, work on building the bridge platform would continue, since 16 of the 35 pillars necessary have already been sunk into the river bed and bank. He was convinced that the bridge will be completed on time (by March 2009).

The bridge will eventually form part of the country's main north-south highway. But until 2009, motorists crossing the river between Sofala and Zambezia provinces must still rely on a ferry service. Despite the flood, the ferry is still operating normally, making the journey across the river (about 700 metres) in 15 minutes.

Further south, in the Buzi basin, over 80 millimetres of rain fell on Wednesday and Thursday. On Thursday the river was measured at 4.9 metres at Goonda, just 10 centimetres short of flood alert level. The Lucite, one of the rivers that forms the Buzi, rose sharply from 4.1 metres on Wednesday to 7.2 metres on Thursday. This makes it very likely that Buzi town will be inundated once more, and that flood waters will cut the roads leading into Buzi district.

The Pungue, measured at the Mafambisse sugar plantation, stood at 7.47 metres on Thursday, well above flood alert level of six metres, and the DNA warned that it could rise higher.

Despite the risks, 171 people evacuated from the Pungue valley returned to their old homes on Wednesday, complaining of poor conditions in the government's accommodation centres. The authorities have threatened to take them back to the centres by force.

Joao Ribeiro, deputy director of the country's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), said that people who risk returning to vulnerable areas are undermining the INGC's efforts to avoid any loss of life.

The Friday weather forecast is not encouraging. Rains are likely to continue across central Mozambique and in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Thus all the main rivers of central Mozambique can be expected to go on rising.

Cahora Bassa Switches Off Power

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Maputo)
10 January 2008

Mozambique's Cahora Bassa dam has interrupted supplies of electricity to the Zimbabwean power facility, ZESA, for non-payment of bills.

A senior source in the dam operating company, Hidroelectrrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB) told AIM on Thursday that resumption of the power supply to Zimbabwe is dependent on ZESA paying in full a debt of 10 million US dollars.

HCB gave ZESA a serious warning of its intent when, in mid-December, it reduced supplies to Zimbabwe from 150 to 75 megawatts. ZESA still did not pay the debt, and so, on 28 December, the flow of all HCB power to Zimbabwe was interrupted.

AIM's source added that, "as a humane gesture" the power supply was reconnected on New Year's Eve. But, despite promises from ZESA, no money was forthcoming, and so on 1 January HCB once again disconnected Zimbabwe.

Subsequently, ZESA was able to scrape together seven million dollars. This was not enough: HCB insists on the full 10 million dollars before resuming electricity supplies to ZESA. AIM's source was optimistic that the money would indeed be paid later on Thursday, or possibly on Friday.

According to a second HCB official, Juliao Pondeca, advisor to the Board of Directors on Strategic and Commercial Development, the company is in daily contact with ZESA, which is in turn in permanent contact with its Zimbabwean industrial clients (some of whom have expressed a willingness to pay in hard currency for guaranteed Cahora Bassa power).

Pondeca said that, as of Thursday, HCB's overdue debt stood at 18.7 million dollars, and a further four million dollars will fall due by the end of this month. "As soon as ten million dollars is paid we shall switch the power back on, and then we shall talk about the rest of the debt", said Pondeca.

Pondeca said ZESA had the habit of promising to pay "tomorrow", but when tomorrow came, the money didn't. "Unfortunately, failure to pay has brought us to this situation", he added, stressing that HCB could not allow the ZESA debt to become unsustainable.

"ZESA is a very important client for us", he said. "It's a strategic client, but this is just a question of regulation".

The disconnection comes as an unwelcome reminder to ZESA that, even though HCB is now run by Mozambique, rather than by Portugal, it is still a commercial enterprise, and not a charity. Indeed, the signs are that the new Mozambican management of HCB is taking a tougher line on payment than the old Portuguese management did.

Mozambique acquired a majority stake in HCB on 27 November, when payment of 700 million dollars to Portugal for 67 per cent of the HCB shares was finalized. This brought the Mozambican state's holding in HCB to 85 per cent, while the Portuguese holding shrank to 15 per cent.

The Mozambican government borrowed the 700 million dollars from a consortium of French and Portuguese banks. The banks will be repaid out of sales of Cahora Bassa electricity - and this is an arrangement that will only work, if HCB's clients honour their commitments and pay up on time.

The ZESA Chief Executive Officer, Ben Rafemoyo, cited by the independent Zimbabwean news agency Zimonline, admitted that HCB had cut supplies. His candour contrasts with the disinformation in the state-owned daily paper "The Herald" which has repeatedly stated in recent editions that Zimbabwe is still receiving 75 megawatts from HCB, when in reality the country has not received a drop of HCB power since 1 January.

Rafemoyo told Zimonline "We are trying to catch up with the ballooning debt. HCB is insisting that we clear what we owe them".

ZESA's problem is that Zimbabwe only generates around 1.500 megawatts, but consumption is 2,200 megawatts. The gap has traditionally been met by imports - but not only HCB, but also Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have suspended exports of power to Zimbabwe because of debt.

The South African electricity company Eskom has demanded payment up front from ZESA - but even if ZESA could pay, currently Eskom does not have the spare capacity to export power to Zimbabwe, since it is chronically short of power for its South African clients.

The result is enormous power cuts in Zimbabwe. ZESA has been withholding power from domestic consumers for up to 20 hours a day, to ensure that electricity goes to key industries.

ZESA is also plagued with ageing equipment and severe maintenance problems, notably at the Hwange coal-fired power station. The torrential rains that Zimbabwe has been experienced over the past few weeks mean that the coal is wet. It can only be burnt properly by firing it first with diesel - and ZESA is running out of diesel.

So desperate is ZESA's situation, that it now wants to bring back into production three small coal fired stations that were mothballed years ago because of coal shortages.

MAPUTO 10 January 2007 Sapa


Mozambique's Ministry of Health has issued a high alert in some of the country's districts, including the capital Maputo, following recent reports of cholera and diarrhoea, the daily Noticias reported on Thursday.

The Mavalane central hospital in Maputo currently registered between 50 and 60 patients on a daily basis for treatment of diarrhoea-related ailments.

High cases of diarrhoea have also been reported in Gaza, Tete, Cabo Delgado and Sofala provinces.

Authorities said the cases of diarrhoea were worsened by intense rains which had fallen in some parts of the country since November.

The paper said while the ministry of health had issued a high alert on the diseases, there were no current figures on the total number of people affected.

Each year, cholera cases are reported in flood prone Mozambique and hundreds of people are reportedly affected by the deadly disease.

So far, authorities estimate that more than 5,000 people have been affected by floods in central Mozambique since the beginning of the rainy season.

Rains in Neighbouring Countries Worsen Floods

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Maputo)
9 January 2008

The Mozambican meteorological office (INAM) has warned that the forecast for the next 24 hours is continued rain in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Much of this water will inevitably be funneled into the Zambezi valley, and so the National Water Board (DNA), in its Wednesday bulletin, warns that the level of the Zambezi, already in flood for most of its length in Mozambique, is likely to rise still higher.

The Minister of State Administration, Lucas Chomera, has warned that within two or three days all the islands in the Zambezi will be completely submerged. People living on the islands have already been evacuated.

The only comfort for residents of the Zambezi valley is that the Cahora Bassa dam has not increased its discharges again. They are remaining steady at 6,600 cubic metres a second.

The DNA warns the rain in Zimbabwe will also means slight increases in the levels of the other major rivers in central Mozambique - the Pungue, the Buzi and the Save. The Buzi and the Save had fallen below flood alert level in recent days, while the Pungue has remained ominously high, endangering traffic on the Beira-Zimbabwe road.

Meanwhile, the Mozambican Red Cross (CVM) has said it will make an appeal for international support if this years floods become worse than those of February 2007.

Eunice Mucache, the CVM projects director, interviewed by the Portuguese news agency LUSA, said the organisation already needs 136,000 euros (about 190,000 US dollars) for its relief work. "If the humanitarian situation gets worse, we shall launch an international appeal for help", she declared.

Money raised in this way, Mucache, said would cover the basic expenses of CVM volunteers stationed in central Mozambique. There are currently 274 volunteers involved in latrine construction and health education among the flood victims.

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