A Journalist Reflects On Mozambique

mozambique flood AP

For a journalist, natural disasters are both the easiest and most difficult stories to report. Easy because the images are striking—you see the best in human beings, such as the heroism of South African helicopter crews risking their lives to pluck desperate people from trees.

But the daring and exhausting efforts to get food to the survivors make one almost feel guilty to be a spectator, crucial though our role of informing may be. Emotionally, even years of witnessing tragedy offer little protection.

Always it is the children whose plight plucks the heartstrings, separated from parents, in danger of life-threatening diseases. You look at them, imagine your own child in similar circumstances, and say a silent prayer of thanks for having been born where you were.

Flying over the vast areas swamped by the flood-swollen Limpopo River and remembering the last time cameraman Siphiwo Ralo and I were here was a bitter lesson on the fickleness of Nature.

In 1992 Mozambique was in the grip of drought. We saw women digging for water in the middle of the river. At the time we reported that a Washington group surveyed a hundred and forty-one countries to assess the quality of life, and declared Mozambique "the most miserable place on earth."

What makes the floods even more tragic is that when they struck Mozambique, its people were being hailed as one of the developing world's great success stories.

There is considerable bitterness here about the pace of the international response. Well-meaning though they were, the sight of Florida firemen arriving with a fully-inflated boat two weeks into the floods bought America no kudos here.

The resilience of the Mozambican people, their effort to struggle on is both sad and uplifting. And so, objectivity be damned; this ends with a plea for the world not to forget these people as soon as their images fade from your TV screen.

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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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