Recipe for disaster

International | Three days of rain turn the plains of Mozambique into the largest aid mobilization ever seen in Africa

Issue: "Court in the balance," April 1, 2000

in Maputo, Mozambique - What has happened to Mozambique, this country where we live and work and have come to know so well, is almost unbelievable to us. What started off as a three-day rainstorm early last month has turned into a natural disaster that has required the largest humanitarian aid mobilization Africa has ever seen. It is likely that tens of thousands of human corpses will be uncovered when the floodwaters subside. Southern Mozambique is one huge floodplain draining the highlands of South Africa and Zimbabwe, and there was no escape for whole towns and villages, many still beyond the range of rescue helicopters. Mothers struggling in neck-deep currents drowned their own babies in their backslings. Stranded communities are reduced to eating the decayed flesh of dead cows, and children are even roasting rats. Upper-story roofs in Xai-Xai Province have collapsed under the weight of so many desperate survivors. The stench in the streets from sewage and animal carcasses is terrible. Severe malnutrition is setting in among young children. Clean water is nearly impossible to find, even for rescue crews. Refugees have been seen urinating in and drinking out of the same pools of water. Malaria victims lie motionless in the dirt with high fevers. Twenty-six camps with almost no facilities or provisions are trying to care for 250,000 people. Aid is pouring into Maputo's tiny airport finally, creating a logistical nightmare. Air traffic controllers have been flown in from England to handle the load. After weeks of delay, the government has expedited customs, but still the fine details of every shipment take hours and days for officials to write out without computers. Organizing and delivering goods to the camps, and then by air to still-stranded populations, is overtaxing the capabilities of the world's largest disaster-relief organizations. And still the cry is, "Too little, too late." There aren't enough helicopters in all of Africa to handle the need. The worst is yet to come, as thirst, ravenous hunger, and epidemics take their toll, even with the best efforts of dedicated aid professionals. We have assumed responsibility for a second camp of 3,000 flood victims, this one north of Maputo near the severe floodwaters. Our staff went up there by arrangement with the government to pick up and bring to our center as many flood orphans as possible. To get there we have to wade through water waist-deep or more for an hour, and take surface transport at exorbitant cost (fuel must be carried in on heads). Helicopters are bringing in survivors all through the day and landing them in three main areas south of Xai-Xai. Mozambique is still a land of paganism, witchcraft, and ancestor worship among many. The head of the Renamo, the political party that narrowly lost a recent national election, declared that this disaster was the work of angry "spirits" taking revenge over a miscount of the votes. Syncretism, illiteracy, and rural isolation are other obstacles to hearing the clear gospel. But in these camps people are gathered together from their far-flung villages and are eager and willing to listen to preaching, and to receive ministry in the Holy Spirit. May Jesus reign over this national calamity as only He can.

-Rolland and Heidi Baker direct Iris Ministries and have been missionaries in Mozambique since 1980

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