Flood management testifies to policies transforming Mozambique
26 February 2007, International Herald Tribune
CAIA, Mozambique: The flooding could have been another story of disaster striking a poor and poorly prepared African country.
Instead, Mozambique has been credited with efficient management of the crisis, thanks to wise use of debt relief dollars, the appointments of technocrats to replace corrupt politicians and other policies helping transform it from a basket case to a bread basket.
The National Institute for Disaster Management, which has overseen the safe evacuation of nearly 90,000 people to tent camps, said this week that the flooding will get worse: Continuing rainfall in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi probably will bring more floods downstream in the Zambezi River.
Cyclone Favio hit the flooded area Thursday and a second storm, Cyclone Gamede, was just north of Madagascar on Friday and forecasters said it was possible it would lash the same area of Mozambique on Sunday.
About 30 people were killed in the flooding in Mozambique. Cyclones in 2000 and 2001 caused floods that killed some 800 Mozambicans.
Since the 2000-2001 flooding, Mozambicans have elected a new leader — their first in 18 years — who campaigned with promises to clean up endemic corruption.
Mozambique was a Portuguese colony for nearly 500 years and suffered a guerrilla war for independence for more than a decade. When black rule finally came in 1975 it brought a debilitating civil war between the Marxist government and guerrillas backed by a racist white regime in Rhodesia. The government renounced Marxism in 1989 and the United Nations negotiated an end to the war in 1994.
Huge amounts of aid poured into the country, most used for large projects including an aluminum smelter and rehabilitating the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric dam.
Mozambique became the world's fastest growing economy at up to 10 percent a year, albeit from a very small base, with aluminum, natural gas and electricity last year accounting for 70 percent of exports and overtaking traditional agricultural exports like tobacco, prawns and cashew nuts.
For the first time last year, Mozambique grew enough maize to export to Malawi and to Zimbabwe, formerly the region's bread basket — maize grown by peasant farmers working small plots such as those flooded in the Zambezi Valley.
Armando Guebuza, elected the third president of Mozambique in 2004, began his cleanup campaign with the disaster management institute, replacing corrupt politicians with agronomist Paulo Zucula as director and forestry engineer Joao Ribeira as his deputy.
"This is quite a turning point," said Fernando Lima, a political analyst. "They made a cleanup of the whole structure of corrupt people who were making deals with food aid and this makes a difference because it attracts more confidence from donors."
In previous emergencies, donors worked through the Red Cross, avoiding the government agency known for its inefficiency and corruption.
Zucula said he streamlined the institute, which had grown into a behemoth that helped war victims and from which millions of dollars disappeared. He focused his staff on disaster preparation.
Yohannes Antonyo, the Mozambique emergency specialist for Christian Aid agency, said Mozambique's early warning and preparedness put it at the cutting edge of disaster risk reduction — one of the Millennium Goals of the U.N. project to halve poverty.
"You spend one dollar today on risk management and save maybe two or three dollars tomorrow when you have an emergency," Antonyo said.
The institute's flood command center in Caia, an agriculture center about 550 miles (880 kilometers) northeast of Maputo, was equipped with computers powered by a generator, allowing relief workers to buy satellite photos to assess the dangers from rising waters, update figures on affected villagers, and chat via computer message with colleagues buying tents in South Africa.
Funds to transform the institute were available because aid to Mozambique is increasingly going directly to the state budget instead of specific projects, giving the government flexibility about where it is channeled, said Joseph Hanlon, a senior lecturer in development at Britain's Open University who's written several books about Mozambique.
"What you are seeing, in part, is the success of debt relief because that has released money that Mozambique has put into not just health and education but also disaster preparation," he said.
Mozambique's annual debt payments have been reduced from $162 million in 2002 to $51 million — from 23 percent of government revenue to around 10 percent, according to the World Bank. Government spending on health rose from US$6 a person to US$50 between 1990 and 1999.
Yet it remains one of the most aid-dependent countries, relying on aid for half the government budget.
Economic growth and foreign investment have not been matched by poverty reduction, the World Bank says, though average income has risen from US$150 during war years to US$290 a year in the country of 20 million people that's nearly twice the size of California. A high incidence of AIDS, with more than 1.3 million people living with the disease, has contributed to a life expectancy of just 40 years.
Mozambique has been on red alert — just one step down from a national disaster — since January. Hanlon said non-governmental organizations have been pressuring Zucula to declare an emergency, hoping to encourage large donations from abroad.
Zucula's "real resistance" to that was a sign of a newly found self-sufficiency in Mozambique, Hanlon said.
Lima also attributed it to a policy that comes directly from Guebuza, who "encourages self-esteem and says Mozambicans must be proud of themselves and can't always be begging with their hand held out for handouts."
Guebuza, who became a rich businessman in the 1990s as corruption grew, is facing increasing opposition from within his party to the fight against graft.
Fernando Veloso, director of the independent newspaper Canal de Mozambique, said Guebuza still is making new appointments in the second year of his term, but did not think that replacing staff was the issue.
"The problem is not one person but the entire system that is corrupt," he said.
Still he had praise for Zucula. "If he performs as I personally think he can do, I believe he will become a good example of accountability and that would be an entirely new figure in this country."