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June 21 2000

Maputo - News from Mozambique

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We report parts of the account of the visit that Marco Bartoli, from the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome and Andreas Heiss, from Wurzburg have done in Mozambique.

We visited the areas that had been hit by the cyclone in February. The first place we visited was Barada, on the shore of the ocean that can only be reached by boat and where there is the most ancient mission of the whole province of Sofala. Here the floods did not arrive but the cyclone itself did a lot of damage. It destroyed hundreds of palms, the roofs of the dormitory of a school where 800 children live, it also badly damaged the infirmary of the mission. Teachers and pupils already started to fix the rooms of the school and they have already replaced the roof tiles. The infirmary however needs to be rebuilt.

From there we went to Estaquinha, another mission that, after having been nationalized was later given back to the church after the war. The community had already helped in 1994 both the rebuilding and the furnishing of the school. The cyclone did a lot of damage and it destroyed all the roofs of the school.

In Mangunde we were welcomed by the Comboni Sisters who lived, together with the young people of their school, really difficult moments. Mangunde, in fact is located near the river Buzi and within a few hours between the 21st and 22nd of February was completely submerged. Some of the pupils saved themselves running away on foot. The sisters remained with the other children. The river submerged everything. The only structure that was still above the water was an old three storey house that had been bombed during the war and was partly in ruin. The sisters and 25 remaining children found refuge on the roof of the house and they waited for more than 24 hours fearing that the house might collapse because of the strong current.

The area that was most badly hit is at the delta of the Save river where the cities of Machanga and Nova Mambone are located. Here the weather displayed all its destructive power: two floods and a cyclone. The scene even today is desolate. In Machanga there are almost no more trees and everywhere we can see the signs of the violence of the force of the wind, of the rain and of the sea. There was a school that is completely destroyed and today the children still live under tents. The roof of house of the missionary is partly destroyed. There is no school with its roof still in place. Many health centres have been damaged and practically all the traditional houses ( they are normally built with straws, and clay) have been destroyed. To make things even worse the flood has brought on the field the salted water of the sea and for at least one year there will be no harvest at all.

Crossing the river Save with a canoe, we arrive in Nova Mambone, very well known by the Community. Here in 1988 the Community helped to build a salt plant that gave work to a lot of families. The flood of the river and a large wave from the sea destroyed 16 warehouses and all the salt in them. Furthermore the pumps that regulated the flux of the sea water were also totally damaged. The workers tried to rebuild at least some of the basins and in a moth or so they will be able to produce a small quantity of salt. The production of salt is essential for every activity in the area. In fact the major resource of Machanga and Mambone is fish. In these areas the best shrimps of Mozambique are found and salt is essential for the treatment and the commercialisation of both fish and shrimps.

Father Marchiol, a missionary in Mozambique since 1953, told us a story: A man and his son were caught by a giant river wave. While he was being dragged away by the wave he started praying: "Lord, save my child. I do not care if I die, but please save my child". While he was praying he saw a gigantic anthill on which he crawled together with the child. Once on the anthill he discovered that also snakes and other animals had had the same idea. For three days they remained on the anthill together with the animals and the snakes looking at each other. Nobody moved either men or animals. On the tird day he saw an ox swimming by and he decided to leave the fortuitous haven. Once on the dry land he continued to repeat to the relatives that had thought him and the child dead: I am Lazarus, I am Lazarus!".

The overall situation is still very bad because the cold season is approaching and the people have not yet rebuilt their homes. This is why the Community already sent drugs, pottery and it is bringing at the moments some thousands of blankets (the first 500 blankets were distributed during our visit).

We also hope to be able to help the reconstruction of the health care centres of the various places we visited.

The future will be difficult: many express concern because it has not be possible to sow and without harvest many risk hunger.

Other spoke to us about the need of avoiding other floods by rebuilding the banks of the rivers that were destroyed during the war when the farmers used to grow their crops on the river shore destroying the vegetation that protected against floods. This year floods are therefore also an heritage of the war.

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