Despite massive floods Joint Aid Management continues to focus on its development work.
In the worst flooding since the cataclysmic floods of 2000, where an estimated 800 people died, Mozambique is once again facing a humanitarian disaster. The town of Chokwe in the southern province of Gaza has been submerged under two meters of water since 22 January when the neighbouring Limpopo River flooded.
The flooding forced an estimated 78,000 people to evacuate Chokwe, while the United Nations (UN) estimates that 150,000 people have been displaced and a total of 250,000 people have been affected by the flooding in the Gaza province. The majority of affected people have left for higher ground in neighbouring towns like Xai-Xai and the temporary relief camp at Chiaquelane, some 30 km from Chokwe. Latest news reports estimate that at least 38 people have been confirmed dead as of Tuesday 29 January. Approximately 110,000 ha of farmers’ land were flooded, which indicates a medium to long-term negative impact on agriculture.
Massive damages to JAM’s commodities
Joint Aid Management’s (JAM) central operating point for operations in the Mozambican Province of Gaza is in the town of Chokwe. JAM has not emerged unscathed from these recent floods as the surging floodwaters reached JAM’s warehouse and offices. JAM maintains a warehouse in Chokwe that normally stores up to 600 tons of food, donated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for JAM’s nutritional feeding programs in the region. The Chokwe warehouse distributes food to 122 schools feeding 66,000 children every school day. The warehouse in the Chokwe Province serves 78,000 children in 192 schools.
The warehouse sustained significant damage and loss from the flood surge that reached 32 ft. (this is 17 ft. above the flood warning level), making it impossible for normal access to the site. The last of JAM’s staff members were evacuated three days after the flooding started when the water reached the second level of JAM’s offices. The isolation of the site from JAM’s access point has exposed the site to looting of food and other equipment. “People are extremely hungry and there is no way of securing our premises at the moment,” a JAM staff member said.
The flooding has also resulted in massive damages to infrastructure including bridges, roads and buildings which are all still under water. It still needs to be determined how much of the infrastructure will remain. Early estimates indicate JAM’s losses around USD 750,000 in reference to food, equipment, vehicles, furniture, spares and other items.
Thirty years of operation in Mozambique
JAM was founded almost 30 years ago as a result of extreme famine in Pambarra, Mozambique. JAM’s Founder and CEO Peter Pretorius made a life changing decision never to be witness to such devastation again in the future. “Mozambique has come a long way in the last 30 years and while this isn’t the same kind of devastation that I lived through with them, I am no less concerned about the impact of this event and remain completely committed that JAM will ensure the continuation of our school feeding programs now and beyond,” said Peter.
JAM is currently assessing the situation in conjunction with the USDA, and early indications are that approximately 450 metric tons of food was lost. Approximately 33 metric tons of food has been salvaged and whatever resources they can, JAM and the USDA are finalizing contingency plans to plan the way forward. A report indicating the real impact on JAM’s program delivery in the Gaza Province of Mozambique will be compiled as soon as evaluation processes are complete.
Losses close to home
Chokwe Mayor Jorge Macuacua said that the town had been on high alert since Monday (21 January) when the Limpopo River’s water level suddenly bypassed the flood level warning, and subsequently dramatically rose to reach 32 feet. JAM Mozambique’s Maintenance Manager also reported that the water was about waste deep in the warehouse where JAM’s Corn Soya Blend (CSB) food bags were being stored. At the time of flooding there were 485 metric tons of CSB in bags in storage.
JAM’s accountant in the Gaza province, Lovemore Mvududu’s, house was destroyed and all he managed to rescue was some of his clothes and certificates. “We are yet to find out what other losses our staff have experienced, but there are bound to be others. Despite staff members’ personal losses during this devastating period, it is encouraging to see that they remain committed and focused,” said Shingirai Mandizadza, Manager of Design, Monitoring and Evaluation (DME).
Committed to helping the community of Chokwe and so many others increase their levels of livelihoods and resilience towards disasters, JAM looks at this unfortunate display of events as temporary hurdles, which will not deter the organization from its ultimate goal throughout the continent, to Help Africa Help Itself.
As Pretorius notes, “We won’t stop our work until these communities are better equipped to enjoy a sustainable, food secure future. Along with our partners USDA, we will be working hard in the weeks ahead to bring normality to this situation and our programs in the affected areas of our work in Mozambique.
Background on Chokwe
Chokwe is located within the Limpopo’s lower basin and receives an unusually large amount of water from upstream due to factors such as high local rainfall aided by frequent cyclone activity, poor land management in the upper river basin, soil erosion and no management of upstream dams and wetlands. These factors combined with the flat landscape, which stops natural flood barriers from forming, leaves Chokwe and Gaza Province with little or no flood protection when the Limpopo floods.