Before 2020, Palma was a small, quiet fishing town on the shoreline of Mozambique. With the arrival of Total, a French gas company, Palma transformed into a bustling hub for Mozambique’s growing gas industry. According to the BBC, Total began to develop a $20 billion gas liquefication plant in Palma to extract from the second-largest gas reserve on the continent of Africa. Palma’s economy grew rapidly due to heavy foreign investment and the relocation of over 1000 foreign workers to the area. However, the recent development of the natural gas reserves in Palma also drew violence and instability to the region.
In March 2021, extremist rebels sieged the town of Palma – displacing over 40,000 and killing hundreds in a span of weeks. Since then, Mozambican police and relief agencies are still trying to mitigate the devastating results. Construction and gas extraction is paused, over $1 million was stolen from local banks, and families continue to flee by foot, sea, and air each day. Those still in Palma lack sufficient food, shelter, and water and are still under threat by frequent hit and run attacks committed by the insurgents. According to Doctors Without Borders, those travelling to safety often report sightings of dead bodies along the way – most of whom died from dehydration or starvation. Those who managed to evacuate and find shelter in the nearby village of Quintunda face dire humanitarian conditions as well. Over 11,000 people are currently sheltering at a local school, according to the IOM, and have been living off cassava for three weeks. The IOM reported that 43% of the displaced individuals are children.
The attacks in Palma are just a recent development of insurgent violence, which started in the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique in 2017. According to BBC News, the local al-Shabab militia is responsible for the stark increase in violence and has ties to IS, the Islamic State. In 2017, less than 100 people died from violent incidents in Cabo Delgado. However, in 2021, almost 2000 individuals have been killed by the militant group. These deaths included kidnappings, killings, and the most horrifying – the gruesome beheading of over 50 people in the span of a few days. By the end of 2020, almost 700,000 people total were displaced as a result of the conflict in Cabo Delgado, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The emergency responders have limited resources and are not seeing support from international organizations, such as the United Nations. However, the United States and Portugal promised to supply Mozambique with military advisors to train Mozambican forces in preventing the spread of terrorism and violence, according to the US Embassy in Mozambique. The crisis in Palma highlights the failure of Mozambique and the international community to protect civilians from violent extremist groups.