Insecurity Remains in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

Examining Cabo Delgado

The current situation in Mozambique is filled with conflict, insecurity and violence that’s only grown since 2017. Attacks by non-state militant groups have heightened and spread across different geographical areas within Mozambique. This has lead to substantial human rights abuses, such as reports of child soldiers conducting atrocities, beheading, reoccurring attacks by militant groups, and more clashes in the Cabo Delgado region as told by Stéphane Dujarric, a UN spokesperson. Reportedly by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), nearly 80% of internally displaced people and victims of human rights abuses from the violence in Mozambique are women and children.

Prior to recent events, the United Nations provided 2017 estimates that nearly 670,000 to 700,000 – mostly children and women – were internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Niassa, Nampula, Sofala and Zambezia provinces. While some had utilized government owned re-settlement sites, the vast majority of Mozambicans relied on host families who provided temporary shelter. In 2020, this number of people nearly quadrupled from over 110,400 in March to almost 530,000 in November, with children again being one of the highest amount of people displaced at an estimated 45% of people. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) claimed over 90% of displaced people living with family and friends stayed in host communities. The UNOCHA noticed that resources are becoming scarce for these communities with a new trend that these new arrivals are significantly increasing the original population of these districts. For example, the Ibo district has more internally displaced persons than host community members and in Pemba city, an additional 100,000 displaced people arrived in the past year,  compounding Pemba’s original population of around 224,000 people.

Recently, attacks have worsened during March 2021 by militant extremists who ambushed and reportedly overtook the town of Pemba, murdering dozens of people and displacing thousands due to the violence. According to the UNHCRthese attacks alone have caused an upward trend in internal displacement figures to the point where more than 70,000 people have been displaced since the attacks, increasing the total number of Mozambicans displaced by the violence to nearly 800,000. The UNHCR predicts that citizens are still escaping the armed conflict and are likely continuing to move towards southern districts, or to neighbouring Tanzania.

Although the UNHCR reports new arrivals outside of Pemba, not everyone is able to escape successfully to other districts of Mueda, Metuge, Balama, Namuno, Chiure, Mecufi, Nangade, Ibo Montepuez, Negomano and Quitunda. Mozambican border authorities report that more than 9,600 of new arrivals have been returned through the Negomano border point since January 2021. UNHCR teams attempted in supporting people arriving from different districts, many of whom are separated from their family members and must reside in host communities. The ongoing insecurity has forced thousands of families to seek refuge in the southern most provinces.

Despite how the violence has caused Mozambicans to lose a safe and financially secure enviornment, it has also affected their access to quality health care. Health, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Education services across Cabo Delgado have been significantly impactedThe UNOCHA reports insecurity has damaged 36% of health facilities across the Cabo Delgado province and in some districts like Mocimboa da Praia, Macomia, Muidumbe and Quissanga, no functional health facilities exist. This poses difficulties in examining, detecting, and responding to community health concerns that may include emergency care, sexual and reproductive care, immunization, and disease treatment and outbreaks, especially with COVID-19. Access to safe water has also been compromised where according to the UNOCHA, an estimated 176,000 people have lost access to their primary water source and 45% of health facilities in Cabo Delgado lack access to water.

Deprived of Resources

Mozambique’s conflict and insecurity are indicative of a country with significant economic and social problems. It is considered one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world with a population of nearly 30 million people. According to the UNOHCA, more than 70% of Mozambicans are living in rural areas and the quality of life is questionable where the country ranks 180 out of 189 countries, espousing one of the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) in the world. The UNOHCR reports a significant proportion of the population of more than 62% living below the international poverty line, and containing an economy where over 83% of existing jobs are precarious.

One factor to consider on what exacerbates life in Mozambique is how existing rates of internal displacement and resource deprivation are contributed by Mozambique’s unnatural weather conditions. The country can experience consistent cyclical droughts and flooding, including two back-to-back major cyclones in 2019 in March and April respectively. The UNOHCA found that these conditions add difficulty in recovering from these natural disasters and have shown to at least maintain the high poverty levels and the vulnerability across most of the country. It appears to have no discouraging effect on the increasing violence and insecurity in the country, leads to displacements and protection concerns

Humanitarian Response

If such violence and insecurity has been documented since 2017, how and what has been the humanitarian response towards it? The United Nations has promised to assist at least 750,000 internally displaced persons, including those that escaped the March 2021 Palma attacks and other members of host communities. Thousands of others are reportedly trapped in very insecure areas around Palma that restrict humanitarian access. However, the UNHCR and partner agencies were recently allowed access to some rural areas to help displaced people living in desperate conditions. The UNHCR continues to work with partners to assess their needs and provide life-saving assistance and have provided relief items to 10,000 displaced people. It is organizing emergency food distributions for families displaced from Palma and providing food and ready-to-eat immediate response rations and water enough sustainable for two weeks.

However, the United Nations cannot be depended to respond to these crises alone as the humanitarian presence  in Mozambique already experiences restrictions in its access to certain districts and in some cases, provinces. As mentioned, the previous multiple climate emergencies dating back to 2019 along with more recent weather conditions such as flooding make resources more scarce and require immediate financial assistance. In fact, the UNOHCA confirmed that out of the $254.1 million funding promised and assigned for Mozambique’s humanitarian assistance, only $27.8 million has been received, which not only makes this only 11% progress achieved, but it shortens the share of funding needed in Cabo Delgado. “More resources are immediately required to meet the needs of people fleeing the violence in Palma” stressed one UN spokesperson.

The Future

One brief story can symbolize the current issues with the support system for Mozambicans in response to the violence. Bakar, 13, Momad, 17, and Abdala, 15, were selling bananas and pieces of brightly-coloured material known as capulana at the main market in Mocimboa da Praia. They were shortly displaced by a non-state militant attack to their town. The boys were forced to settle in an government resettlement site alongside 2,600 people living in mud shelters and slept outside. One boy, when questioned about the violence, gave his thoughts about the violence. “I do not see an end to this war. We lived in constant terror for three years already, and children continue to run, to abandon their houses, to be separated from their families, to drop out of school,” said Momad. “It is difficult to think about a future in these circumstances, when you do not even know where you will be the next day.” Momad explained

That last quote by Momad can summarize the entire issue with what the United Nation faces when planning and executing their humanitarian support. They would like to reach out to more districts and help families that are forced to live with host communities, but because they do not currently have the means to access some rural areas in certain districts, agencies are unable to help Mozambicans. Existing funding given in the plan of supporting Mozambique is short of what is truly needed in order to support the impoverished and displaced citizens. In addition, what if Mozambique experiences another unexpected natural disaster? That will require funds and shrink the total financial assistance that’s likely planned in response to the insecurity causing the displacements. That’s why additional help is needed, perhaps by another country or third party, that can assure financial assistance that would make future projects building durable communities, sanitary facilities, accessible health care, economic development, and social assistance programs a reality in the making instead of living with stretched hands because of limited resources.