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Tue May 24 12:00:08 SAST 2016

Mayhem at relief depot

Graeme Hosken | 07 February, 2013 00:40
A South African National Defence Force soldier helps hand out food and goods to people displaced by floods at Licilo, Mozambique, yesterday. However, the relief supplies are often not adequate for the needs Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

Straining, the crowd pushes forward. People are screaming, begging for water, heavily pregnant mothers are squashed together, sweat pouring off their faces in the sweltering heat.

Mozambican government officials wielding self-made whips hit the ground in front of their feet, pushing the crowds back.

South African soldiers and humanitarian aid workers are frantic. Water is running out. The food is finished, yet more people are queuing. They had enough food to distribute to about 100 families, not the 300 or so families before them.

People who had walked dozens of kilometres to safety after escaping Mozambique's devastating floods waited at Licilo displaced people's camp, their patience wearing thin as supplies dwindled.

With a scream, a mother and her young child fell to the ground, setting off a stampede.

Government officials, who were earlier in control of the crowds, vanished, along with the boxes of desperately needed water supplies under their arms.

Within minutes, hundreds of hands swarmed around soldiers and Gift of the Givers workers, grabbing at the few remaining bottles of water and the shoes and clothes destined mainly for children.

Soldiers had to rush to their vehicles and lock their doors to escape.

"What can we do? These are pregnant women and young children - we can't do anything to them. I am not going to hit them like that oke," said a soldier, pointing to a Mozambican whipping a child.

The child was saved when another South African soldier and a Gift of the Givers worker grabbed the boy and pulled him to safety.

"People are desperate. They saw the water running out and they got scared," said Gift of the Givers member Allauddin Sayed.

Sayed said: "We were told we were needed to feed 100 families. Instead, there were many, many more - more than what we could give food, water and clothing to.

"Mothers were pulling out their breasts to show us that they were empty. "We took the decision, after giving food to the young and the elderly, to provide water to all mothers with children," he said.

They managed to provide 25 mothers with several bottles each, before a large group surged forward.

"It was chaos, but it is understandable. People are desperate, hungry, thirsty and afraid - and it is the fear which spreads quickly.

"In the end those who were pushing and shoving were after the clothes and shoes, they took whatever they could.

"Fortunately, no one got injured."


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