"We expect some 285,000 people to be affected. The water levels are rising while the number of people - both the affected and those in accommodation centres - is increasing," said Paulo Zucula, director of National Disaster Management, the country's relief agency.

'Humanitarian disaster'

He described the situation as a humanitarian disaster but said relief efforts were under control.

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Officials nevertheless fear conditions could worsen in the next two weeks as heavy rains have already fallen upstream on the Zambezi river in Zambia, and the rainy season not expected to peak until March.

About 40 people have already been reported dead in Mozambique's flooding, which is the worst since a major flood disaster hit the country in 2000-2001, killing 700 people and displacing half a million more.

Conditions for those displaced by the current floods improved on Thursday as more help arrived for some 50,300 people in 53 accommodation centres.

In one of the biggest centres in the Chupanga area, waterproof canvas tents have now replaced crude huts made from sticks and grass. The UN World Food Programme dropped packages of maize meal, sorghum, rice and cooking oil from helicopters.

"I am happy to have proper food and shelter after sleeping in the open for almost a week. Rains have been pouring on us but now the conditions have improved," said Julia Campa, one of the camp's inhabitants.

Food aid

More than 80,000 people have been
displaced by the flooding [EPA] 
The World Food Programme began distributing food to evacuees on Tuesday, but the operation has been complicated by poor access roads.

Some flood victims have said they have been surviving for more than a week on wild fruits, some of which pose serious health risks, and untreated water.
   
"We have not eaten anything since we arrived here last week," said Johane Balicholo, an official in charge of the Samarusha accommodation centre in Mutarara. "Children will die and we cannot feed them with wild fruit because it's too dangerous."