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World Perspective | Africa

Filling the Gap as Flood Waters Recede and Relief Dries Up

Seeing Mozambique as model for other disaster recovery efforts, donors pledge $452.9 million in new grants.

May 05, 2000|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ROME — Two months ago, after a $130-million rescue and relief effort, helicopters plucked the last survivors from trees and rooftops above Mozambique's flood waters.

Then came a less poignant crisis as people began returning from tent cities to their flood-ravaged villages with little aid to start anew.

"Without adequate living conditions, those people could be in more danger now than they were on their roofs," Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano said this week. "But you cannot show this so easily on camera."

Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries, had fallen into what relief specialists call the disaster aid gap.

That gap is a familiar place for any poor country or region recovering from war or natural calamity. East Timor and Yugoslavia's Kosovo province have experienced it since their conflicts last year. The gap occurs after the emergency aid spigot runs dry and the spotlight of world sympathy moves on to a new tragedy--but before longer-term relief arrives.

Although the World Bank usually rounds up donations for rebuilding a stricken country's infrastructure--essential projects that can take years--people trying to rebuild shattered lives get little immediate attention.

On Thursday, however, donors from 30 countries plugged the gap for Mozambique in a rescue almost as impressive as the helicopter missions over the southeastern African country in late February and early March.

Ending a two-day conference in Rome, they pledged $452.9 million in new grants, $2.9 million more than the country had sought, plus $1 billion in debt relief. The United States, which has trimmed development aid in recent years, led the way with $131 million in grants.

About half the grant money will be available in coming weeks for urgent needs--hoes and seeds for the current planting season, repair of thousands of schools and health clinics, restoration of clean drinking water, and loans to revive small enterprises.

Longer-term aid will repair highways, railroads, bridges, telephone lines and irrigation systems; clear land mines left over from a 16-year civil war; and improve the country's capacity to predict and manage future floods.

"Today is a very good day for Mozambique, for Africa and for development cooperation," declared Mark Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Fund and co-host of the conference with Chissano.

Malloch Brown called the conference the most focused international effort to fill a stricken country's needs between its emergency and its long-term reconstruction.

If the aid proves effective, Mozambique's recovery would become a model and Malloch Brown, a Briton who calls himself "the developing world's family doctor," would promote it in disaster areas around the world.

Mozambique was an ideal candidate, conference participants said, because of its well-managed democratic government and its free-market success.

The former Portuguese colony is making an impressive recovery from the civil war, which ended in 1992. Six government ministers came to Rome with a detailed flood-recovery blueprint backed by business and civic organizations back home.

February's cyclones and torrential rains, they said, displaced 540,000 of the country's 19 million people and put 2 million more in severe economic hardship. About 700 people died, and a tenth of the country's cultivated land was inundated. The official forecast of 10% economic growth this year has been scaled back by about half, even with the aid promised at the conference.

Aid specialists hope that Mozambique's recovery will encourage other poor countries to adopt its policies. But the U.N. relief effort could be adjusted for stricken countries that have less reliable governments, they say, by sending most aid through private channels.

"Mozambique's friends are bringing out the red carpet for a country we think of as the poster child of Africa," Malloch Brown said.

"The model is the way we'll go in the future, but this is the Mercedes-Benz," Malloch Brown said. "I wouldn't expect every country to be as well rewarded."

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