Mozambique News Agency

Floods update - 28th February 2001

Cahora Bassa increases discharges

Maputo, 28 Feb (AIM) - The opening of further floodgates on the Kariba dam, which is jointly managed by Zambia and Zimbabwe, has forced officials at the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique to increase its water discharges too.

On Monday the management of HCB, the company that operates Cahora Bassa, had reduced discharges from the dam from 7,500 to 7,100 cubic metres of water a second, but with an increased flow of water entering the dam lake, the figure was revised upwards: by Tuesday afternoon, the figure was 7,800 cubic metres per second.

According to Joao Zamissa of the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC), the situation is more worrying when one considers that the water entering the dam lake on Tuesday was over 12,600 cubic metres per second.

"What we're doing in face of this situation is to try to avoid that more water be fed downstream", Zamissa told AIM.

Downstream the situation was critical, he said. The Zambezi had flooded the low-lying parts of Tete city, and the offices and warehouse of the local branch of the Mozambican Red Cross as well as other important infrastructures.

At Tete the Zambezi had reached a level of 7.04 metres - critical level is five metres. Zamissa said that the authorities' major concern was to evacuate the population, by force if necessary, from areas considered unsafe.

The district worst affected by the floods remains Mutarara, where the level reached by the waters is 6,35 metres (critical level is five metres). The floods have affected 55,000 people in Mutarara, of whom 15,000 have sought refuge in government accommodation centres, which are now in urgent need of more tents, medicines, and chlorine to purify drinking water.

But the policy of containing the discharges from Cahora Bassa is bringing problems upstream, he said. "The good management of the dam brings problems to areas lying upstream of the dam, especially in Zumbo (on the border with Zimbabwe), due to the accumulation of the waters".

Further downstream, in Sofala province, the INGC was working with the provincial government to evacuate the greatest number of people before the latest flood surge reached the town of Marromeu, near the mouth of the river, he said - 31,000 people live in Marromeu.

"We're making efforts so that people can start moving out by their own means, and in critical areas we'll use the means at our disposal", he said.

It was imperative that people were evacuated, even if they had to be forced into the boats or helicopters, he said, lest in future they blamed the state for whatever misfortune might have befallen them.

Zamissa added that rainfall continues unabated in Tete, but has slackened in intensity in the neighbouring province of Zambezia.

Zambezi Flood: latest

Maputo, 28 Feb (AIM) - Much of the town of Marromeu, on the lower reaches of the Zambezi river, in the central Mozambican province of Sofala, is now under water, as the level of the river, fed by increasing discharges from the Kariba and Cahora Bassa dams, continues to rise.

Marromeu is now cut off by road from the rest of the country, and essential supplies are running short. Wednesday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias" reports that there is no food for patients in the Marromeu rural hospital, and contacts are under way between the health authorities and the world Food Programme to solve this crisis.

The recently rehabilitated Marromeu sugar mill, by far the most significant economic undertaking in the area, was on Tuesday still resisting the flood.

According to a spokesman for the mill's owners, the Sena Company, cited in the independent newsheet "Metical", the factory's protective dikes were holding the waters at bay. Neither the mill, nor the sugar plantation, nor the Sena company's residential area had yet been affected.

The weather in neighbouring Malawi has improved, and so less water is flowing into the Zambezi from its major tributary, the Shire. But this is more than compensated for by the increased discharges from Cahora Bassa.

Rescue workers are trying to evacuate all the scattered settlements in Marromeu district that are now regarded as high risk areas, but are meeting resistance from local residents.

Mozambican Television (TVM) showed footage of families who did not wish to leave their homes, even though the water was lapping around them.

In Tete city, the largest urban area on the Zambezi, low-lying areas are now flooded, and some of the city's industries are paralysed.

At Cahora Bassa, officials of HCB, the dam operating company, insist that they are in control of the situation, but must continue to release large quantities of water since the holding capacity of the dam lake (66 billion cubic metres) is almost exhausted.

The HCB general manager, Fernando Cunha, denied categorically rumours that the water pressure from the dam lake was now so great that the dam wall was beginning to suffer structural damage.

"This is just speculation", he told "Metical". The dam "can tolerate this amount of water and much more. There are over a thousand sensors in the dam wall that alert us to any problem".

Cunha added that in March last year an assessment by a team of American engineers put Cahora Bassa among the best dams in the world in terms of safety.

Further south, the Pungue river remains in flood, but the levels have fallen sharply, and there is no longer any water on the Beira-Zimbabwe highway. The ban on night time use of the road has now been lifted.

A spokesman for the Sofala Provincial Public Works Directorate said that emergency repairs had been made to damaged parts of the road, allowing the restoration of normal traffic.

But, according to Radio Mozambique, the Pungue flood has caused the loss of 1,000 hectares of sugar cane in the Mafambisse sugar plantation.

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