Monday, 4 February 2013

Floods leave trail of suffering and despair

A Mozambican woman displaced by floods collects food parcels at a feeding station set up by Gift of the Givers and the SA National Defence Force near Chokwe, southern Mozambique Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

With fear etched in her face, Salino Chauke clutches a dirty sheet close to her chest.

Wracked with pain, she sings softly as she rocks back and forth, tears welling in her eyes.

Beneath the soiled red and black sheet is Fetina, her youngest child, a three-month-old boy.

For days, with nothing but a bag of maize meal and several bottles of water, the Mozambican mother and her two sisters have been walking. Their reason for walking nearly 70km was to seekshelter, food and medical help from the Gift of the Givers aid workers and South African soldiers and medics.

The sisters fled their home in Gaza province when neighbouring villagers ran to alert them of approaching flood waters.

Within minutes their home was swamped. Rapidly rising waters from the swollen Limpopo River forced them to make drastic and potentially deadly choices: stay and drown or flee while you still can. They and thousands of others chose the latter.

For days, families of about 20 000 people who were left behind gather at the Chokwe displaced people's camp waiting for news of their loved ones.

Those left behind were either too old or too frail to flee.

With their youngest children clutched to their chests, the sisters ran, abandoning their seven older children and a wheelchair-bound uncle.

"You can help me, you can find them," says Chauke, her eyes seeking confirmation.

Clutching Fetina close to her chest as he cries, Chauke rocks back and forth, singing lullabies.

Fetina has not been fed for days. Chauke's breast milk has dried up because of a lack of food.

Her last meal was two days before the floods, which have claimed 80 lives and displaced nearly 200000 . "It's okay," Chauke whispers to Fetina, "It's okay."

The she turns to the South Africans: "Please help us. I tried to phone them, but there is no one. The phones are dead. I just want to know they're alive. That is all. Even if I have lost my house I just want my children to be alright.

"They say South Africans can help. You are South Africans, please help us."

Survivors are desperate for assistance, for news on any survivors. A mother, who escaped with her two children, has resigned herself to her fate.

A neighbour, who escaped the rising waters with her in a small boat, says the woman's husband and two older children drowned while helping her and their younger siblings.

"Her two children are all that she has ... They and the plastic covering them."

For SA National Defence Force dietician Faith Sketana, the plight of the displaced is difficult.

"Where do you start? For every one you help there are hundreds others. Everywhere you look, someone has lost someone, is hungry, needs shelter. It is really difficult.''

"We just have to carry on doing the best we can," Sketana says.

Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said the need was massive.

"The challenges are tough, but we will do it ... We are helping wherever we can, even to just provide comfort."

After being given a packet of rice, Chauke asks for one thing: "Please do not forget.

''Do not forget us when you go home. We will never forget what you have done for us - what South Africa did for Chokwe."

- Times Live

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