Mozambique's floods: the price of world's inaction

Capitalism can't be blamed for the weather, but the disaster which hit this impoverished country has been made a thousand times worse by their inability to do anything that isn't profit motivated. The price of lives is weighed up against what they can buy and how they can be used.

Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony that gained independence in 1975. The Portuguese had done little to develop industries other than transportation which they used to link Mozambique's ports to the interior of southern Africa. The major sources of income remain the profits from handling South African goods and the earnings sent home by Mozambicans working in South Africa. Although Mozambique is rich in minerals and natural gas, little has been done to develop an export industry. Petroleum has to be imported.

The struggle for independence began in 1962, when the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) was formed. Two years later it began a guerrilla movement against Portuguese colonial power. In 1974, after the government in Portugal collapsed, a cease-fire was declared. When independence was granted, FRELIMO became the ruling party. It had declared socialist ideals but ran a one party state. Along with setting up a bureaucratic "planed" economy the government declared support for the struggle for independence from Britain in neighbouring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). FRELIMO allowed Zimbabwean rebels to operate from inside and stopped handling Rhodesian exports and imports.

To retaliate against Mozambique, Rhodesia began arming dissidents who were unhappy with FRELIMO. An organisation to overthrow the government of Mozambique was formed in 1976 by white Rhodesian officials who were trying to prevent the establishment of black-majority rule in their own country. South African armed forces soon took over RENAMO. The RENAMO recruits opposed the nationalisation of industry, the state-run agricultural policy and the dominance of the government by the peoples of the south.

The guerrillas disrupted the economy by sabotaging vital facilities. Much of the transport system was destroyed by rebel attacks, and the government was unable to keep the rail network functioning without the help of Zimbabwean, Zmabian and Tanzanian troops. More than 100,000 deaths were reported. fleeing poverty, drought and the civil war, millions of refugees migrated into neighbouring states. By 1989 FRELIMO's leaders had become disenchanted with the planned economy and advocated a mixed economy. A new constitution in late 1990 ended one-party rule and a Western style "democracy" was set up. In 1992, a cease-fire was signed, ending the civil war. In 1994 Chissano of FRELIMO was elected president in the country's first multiparty elections

Natural disater?

Capitalism can't be blamed for the weather, but the disaster which hit this impoverished country has been made a thousand times worse by their inability to do anything that isn't profit motivated. The price of lives is weighed up against what they can buy and how they can be used. Corruption at the top of Mozambique's government and military are partly to blame for the poor efforts in rescuing the flood victims. Raul Domingos, a top official of reactionary RENAMO, claimed that weather forecasters warned in September that

Mozambique would experience more rain than usual. Domingos also claimed that it had taken Chissano at least a week to declare a disaster and seek international help. Corruption at the top was responsible for air force planes and helicopters failing to rescue flood victims because their engines had been stolen or smuggled out of the country by senior FRELIMO officials. This is apparently "common knowledge" among Mozambicans.

Most of the destruction took place in the southern part of Mozambique, where support for President Joaquim Chissano's FRELIMO government is concentrated. Nearly one million people lost their homes, farms or food supplies. One third of the country's staple crop, corn, has been destroyed along with 40,000 head of cattle and 141 schools. Many asphalt roads and railways were badly damaged or swept away, including the vital route to South Africa, which is now reduced to light traffic only.

Scarce international aid

International aid wasn't exactly forthcoming (not much in the way of profit to be had). During the earliest and most critical days of the flooding, South Africa led the rescue operation with just seven helicopters and an 85-member team. U.S., European and other African rescue assistance did not arrive for days, even weeks, later!

It seems that aid from Britain only started coming when ordinary working people saw pictures on the news and started to demand that something be done. An emergency appeal raised £4 million in 24 hours. Schools and churches started collecting food, soap and blankets for the survivors.

This is very different from the farce that took place in government with the rows between Clare Short's department and the MoD over where to get helicopters from. The MoD was also proposing to charge the Department for International Development the full cost of the helicopters, which included fixed prices such as pilots' salaries. Defence forces in other countries did not charge the full cost in humanitarian operations, nor did the MoD in either Kosovo or after the Turkish earthquake.

International aid finally got through and dozens of helicopters and about £25m of other supplies were finally dispersed across Mozambique. Unfortunately the British contingent arrived with boats, life rafts and other sea rescue equipment when the priority was now to get food, clean water and medicines to the scattered camps. Conditions in many of the makeshift refugee camps were poor. Logistical difficulties and lack of coordination meant that some camps housed 50,000, many with Malaria and others sheltered just a few hundred.

So what now for Mozambique? At least 250,000 people will require regular supplies of food until they can replant their swamped fields. The World Food Programme has 8,000 tonnes of food stockpiled in Mozambique but have difficulty distributing it. President Chissano has said that reconstruction will cost at least £160m. Mozambique is already in debt and Chissano has had to plead with creditors to let it go. Some chance!

Undoubtedly, RENAMO will continue to capitalise on the negative reports. While Chissano is busy trying to restore southern Mozambique, RENAMO has the perfect opportunity to follow through on their earlier threat of establishing a government in the north. If this occurs, FRELIMO resources would most likely be spread too thin. Currently, the government has at least the presence and support of international powers, but this is always treacherous. If the rift between RENAMO and FRELIMO erupted into renewed violence, relief missions would quickly go home so as not to be caught in the middle. The nightmare in Mozambique is not over.