If Portugal’s response to the devastating cyclone that hit Mozambique two weeks ago was slow to get started, it is now in full swing with the government here saying there is no time limit to the aid being supplied, and it may end up being ‘reinforced’, ‘depending on developments’.
Already 35,000 tons of humanitarian aid has been flown into the shattered coastal African country, as reports suggest over €800,000 in cash has already been raised.
Portugal’s ties with Mozambique go back to the time of the Discoveries. Although those years were definitely not this country’s finest hour in terms of how it treated the country’s native people, relations now are close and flourishing.
Over 2500 Portuguese nationals still live and work in Mozambique
When the cyclone ‘struck’, 30 were feared missing. This number has now reduced to just seven.
But the stories emerging are harrowing – not least for what might have happened had things got any worse.
For example, crocodile breeder Manuel Guimarães says that but for the grace of 40 “magnificent men” in his employ (all Mozambicans), the 26,000 animals he has on his land near the coastal port of Beira would have managed to escape their tanks to cause “without doubt a terrible disgrace”.
The thousands of people wading through floodwaters towards higher ground would have been easy pickings for hungry crocodiles – a case of one disaster following another.
“The whole town and the international community would have all had to be catching crocodiles”, Guimarães told reporters this week. “It’s unthinkable 26,000 crocs on the loose, especially the big ones”.
But Guimarães’ snappers were kept corralled by his men as elsewhere the country was battered by 177 km/ hour winds which went on to cause significant damage in the neighbouring countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Said UNICEF this week, an estimated 1.9 million people have been affected in Mozambique, of whom one million are children.
Thousands are feared dead or displaced.
UN relief efforts are being supported by the 110-plus Portuguese military flown over last week.
Planes carrying aid may now be arriving thick and fast, but the problem is getting that aid to the places worst affected.
Portugal’s minister for the communities José Luís Carneiro was one of the first government officials on the ground to be confronted by furious Portuguese resident survivors, all of them critical of the government’s initial response.
That anger has now abated as Portuguese authorities have brought in ‘boots’ and expertise on the ground and are considering opening an INEM field hospital.
Every day there comes a different set of challenges, explained secretary of state for civil protection José Artur Neves – expected to remain in the country till the end of this week at least.
On Tuesday one of the burning questions for Neves was how to locate the ‘still missing’ seven nationals.
Officially, Portugal is saying that it has suffered no Portuguese casualties.
For details of how to help – following the extraordinary CTT Post Office campaign that amassed 200,000 solidarity packages that have already been flown into the sticken country – readers can donate to either of the links given below:
The problem with this developing situation is that aid workers fear diseases like cholera and typhoid could take hold as drinking water is scarce.
To this end, Águas de Monchique joined the relief efforts over the weekend, donating €5000 to the Portuguese Red Cross.
Francisco George, president of the organisation, has called the Red Cross operation “the largest since the First World War”.
Talking to reporters as a Boeing 767 was being packed with supplies on Sunday, George said: “We have to predict the kind of epidemics that could come”.
Doctors and nurses – many of them young and relatively unsure of what they’ll be facing – were being flown in on the same plane, as television reports suggest Portugal’s commitment to its former colony will last “at least six months”.
Today (Tuesday), the official death toll for the disaster was being pegged at 468. Hundreds however remain missing.