Maria and baby face the rising waters of the Umbéluzi
Maria Inês Maposse holds her four-month-old son Zacarias close, just minutes after leaving Círculo Gimo, where she lives, in a Mozambique Defence Armed Forces (FADM) motorboat supporting the population.
The area is almost isolated by the rising Umbeluzi River, swollen by the heavy rains of recent days, which submerged the bridge giving access to the district headquarters village of Boane, just 40 kilometres from the capital, Maputo.
Maria Inês is afraid that homes also will go under. “Best to leave while there is still time. If we stayed on the other side, we could drown. We will not stay here, waiting for death, no we won’t,” she tells Lusa.
Once on the Boane bank, she waits for her husband to take her to stay at the home of family members until the water subsides.
With about a month and a half to go until the rainy season is over, Mozambique has already been roiled by storms and a cyclone in the centre of the country, and now the south has been plagued by several days of heavy rain.
While life on the avenues of the capital carries on normally, the situation is more complicated in the precarious neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Maputo, as well as in rural areas in the provinces of Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo.
The authorities currently carrying out surveys estimate that thousands of traditionally built houses are flooded, especially in low-lying areas, in addition to local roads and small bridges being submerged or seeing traffic restricted.
In Boane, one of the districts affected, the population is used to this scenario during the October-April rainy season, but this year it “too much”, says Eulício Langa. Rains of this intensity should happen “only every 20 years”.
Even so, Langa says that it was time to build a new bridge connecting Circulo Gimo, a more elevated crossing immune to the rising flow of the Umbeluzi River.
The strength of the current signals that it will take time before the bridge roadway surfaces again. In the meantime, boats are the only way to break the population’s isolation, despite the fear inspired by the crossing.
“I’d always be afraid to get on the boat, even alone. Imagine now, with my baby,” Maria Inês says.
“The boat is safe, but I’m afraid. Except there is no alternative,” another passenger, Laura Cossa, adds.
Laura had left Círculo Gimo to buy food in Boane, along with many other people who were now filling the boat to return, confident that the waters would not reach their houses.
Other residents were going by boat to work in the village, like Carlos Bernardo: “This time it was too full and it is difficult,” he says.
The current and the wind give no rest to the FADM members, who have to snake between the two banks to overcome the force of the waters, between trees of which only the canopy can be seen. The motor boat manages to complete another round trip in less than ten minutes, with seven people plus cargo on board.
On another section of the river, at another bridge, closer to the village, the scenario is repeated.
One of the main roads between Boane and Bela Vista, widely used by local hauliers, is also under water, with only the pillars demarcating the lanes breaking the surface.
“Look: it’s not worth going through, there’s no way you can risk it,” Armando Macamo says.
Right next to it is the new railway bridge, twice as high, far above the waters and which serves as an alternative for pedestrians. But those with cars or other vehicles have to look for a crossing elsewhere.
These are recurrent problems, the small crowd gathered at the Umbeluzi River sign, itself flattened by the force of the waters, agrees.
One could, however, seize the opportunity to fish, following the lead of two young men equipped with a mosquito net who, in five minutes, come out of the stream with dozens of tiny fish.
Forecasts point to an improvement in weather in the south of the country from Wednesday, with the rain ceasing, and the sun even coming out again.