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Zimbabwe/Zambia: Flooding claims more lives

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HARARE/LUSAKA, 3 January 2008 (IRIN) - Flooding in Zimbabwe has claimed 21 lives so far and left several thousand homeless in Zambia.

More than 1,000 families, mainly in Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province, have had homes and livestock washed away by the rains which began on 3 December, 2007.

Thousands of homes in the infomal settlement of Epworth, 40 kilometres east of the capital, Harare, have collapsed as a result of the rains.

Proud Chirwa, an Epworth resident, told IRIN residents were either sleeping in the open or sharing houses which remained standing, because they had not been built of mud.

In Chipinge, a Manicaland Province town on the border of neighbouring Mozambique, police told IRIN the heavy rains had resulted in scores of people being marooned on islands created by the heavy rains.

A single Zimbabwean Air Force helicopter being used to rescue those stranded by the flooding was proving inadequate for the rescue job, police said.

In the Southern Province in neighbouring Zambia, the Magoye River burst its banks killing an old man and submerging several hundred homes and flooding several hectares of agricultural land. The heavy rains have washed away at least three bridges in the province. About 1,000 families have been displaced and aid workers fear that if the heavy downpour continues, the crisis could intensify.

"The situation is really bad and something needs to be done urgently before it gets worse," said James Zulu, a spokesperson of the Zambia Red Cross Society. "What has especially compounded this problem is the fact that we did not anticipate these floods to strike this early; we knew they were imminent, but we all thought it could be somewhere in February or March."

More rain

In the last three weeks, heavy rains have continued to pound the Western, Eastern and Northern provinces as well as in the capital, Lusaka, but its effects have not been as serious as in southern Zambia. The Zambia Meteorological Department expects the rains to continue for another three weeks.

"We are deeply concerned that this situation if left unattended to for a longer period, might lead to an increase in malaria cases and outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases," Zulu said.

But Canisius Banda, Ministry of Health spokesperson, said government had stepped up measures to avert any possible outbreaks of diseases. "We have put in place practical measures to ensure that the situation is under control; all our health facilities are well-equipped with effective drugs while presumptive treatment of malaria in pregnant women is still going on," Banda told IRIN.

The ministry had recently distributed three million insecticide-treated nets and carried out indoor residual sprays in the Southern Province. "Even in the case of cholera, we are still safe because there is not a single case anywhere in the country at the moment," Banda said.

Displaced families in the flooded upland areas of Southern Province near the Kariba Dam, the world's largest manmade lake, have since taken up temporary residence in school buildings, while key commodities such as fuel and the staple food maize meal have reportedly become rare.

"We have been cut off from the rest of the country, it's like we have been buried alive because of the bridge that was washed away - we can't get anything because there is no other road," Mary Siamuzhobaila, a resident of Siavonga town in the province bordering Zimbabwe, told IRIN.

"Those who have got money are now buying things in bulk because they are not sure when the road [linking Zambia to Zimbabwe] will be repaired," she said.

Friday Malwa, deputy minister in the Office of the Vice President, which oversees the government's Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, said government was still assessing the floods. "We are currently supplying the affected residents with relief food but the quantity still needed would only be established after the DMMU completes its assessment."