Better Arks for Floods

Before a world-class flood hit, Mozambique was both one of the world's poorest nations and one of its fastest-growing economies. It was also a model democracy that was rebuilding itself after 16 years of civil war.

Now the storms that dumped a year's worth of rain in a few days have set back this Southern African nation, perhaps even more than its war did. Flood waters have left about 1 million people in desperate straits.

The world community, which saw images of people forced to live in trees for up to nine days, is asking how it might have come to the rescue sooner, and how it can now help Mozambique recover and once again become a model nation for Africa.

But it can also ask if such a flood might have been better forecasted, thus enabling people to reach high ground and governments to prepare for rescue, relief, and recovery.

With the global climate getting warmer, the world has seen massive floods, such as recent ones in Central America, India, and Venezuela. During the 1990s, more satellites and better computers allowed scientists to foresee weather patterns and gauge the capacity of watersheds to hold rainwater.

In the United States, potential victims of a hurricane or flood often receive official warning. Why shouldn't countries such as Mozambique also have access to hydrological data and other information that can help mobilize all the necessary helicopters, food, safe water, and other supplies?

In a report to Washington, the US Embassy in Mozambique asked for all US agencies to assist in this effort, anticipating even more rain in coming days and weeks: "One prominent shortfall of the overall disaster response to date is the inability to predict flood flows. Without this ability, prevention of death and loss of property along the major Mozambican watersheds and their tributaries, is nearly impossible."

The US and many Western nations have done much to save Mozambique, and now are providing the means for economic recovery. South Africa was the quickest to respond with helicopter rescues.

Every natural disaster can teach lessons. In Central America's flood of 1998 and Venezuela's last December, one lesson was that people should not build homes on treeless hillsides.

From the Mozambique floods, the world can learn to better share its weather-forecasting ability.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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