Armed Violence Exacerbates Suffering in Cyclone Aftermath in Mozambique
PRETORIA, South Africa, December 4, 2019/ -- Armed violence in Mozambique’s northernmost province Cabo Delgado is forcing scores of people from their homes, destroying villages and health centres, and making it difficult for families to recover from Cyclone Kenneth, which hit the area in April 2019.
Attacks on Mozambicans have been recurrent in Cabo Delgado since 2017. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is concerned about the impact of the armed violence on displaced Mozambicans and their host communities, should this pattern continue.
“In the province of Cabo Delgado the population since 2017 has suffered from armed violence and attacks on their villages,” said Patricia Danzi, ICRC’s regional director for Africa. “Many people had to leave their houses, leave their crops behind and most of their goods.”
In the last two years, hundreds of people have been wounded and killed, homes burned down, and property looted. Safe access to affected communities is a challenge for humanitarian organisations like the ICRC, making the real scale of the needs hard to determine.
“The humanitarian community has problems accessing all of the areas in the province,” said Danzi. “Armed violence prevents us and others from going anywhere, anytime. Each time we want to go somewhere we have to make sure we arrive safely and come back safely and if we don’t get the guarantees, we can’t go. The same goes for the people. If they don’t feel safe to move to places where they can access basic services, they will not go. The true scale of the people that are affected is still unknown.”
People are seeking refuge in the relative safety of larger towns such as Macomia, putting a strain on already scarce resources. Most of those displaced by the armed violence are living with local families, who are generously sharing their homes and what resources they have.
“I was a merchant, doing my business at a small shop,” said Maquela Salimane, who fled his village with his wife and four children and is now living with another family in Macomia town. “But as soon as they came in, they burned my shop and all my belongings. The clothes I am wearing are the only ones I have.”
Others are sheltering in whatever open spaces they can find. Catarina Jaime is one of 23 people sleeping on the dirt-floor of a primary school classroom after their village was attacked in recent weeks. “Our biggest concern is that someone helps us find a place [to live] because we’re not safe here,” Catarina said.
The armed violence is also affecting people’s ability to feed their families. People are increasingly turning to charcoal production, a trade that can have long-lasting environmental consequences, because they are afraid they will be attacked if they go to their field outside Macomia town. This comes after losing their previous harvest to Cyclone Kenneth.
“With that money you may have a little to support yourself,” said Musa Alfane, who makes roughly 3 USD for one 50-kg bag of charcoal. “Here there has been a lot of hunger due to armed violence and the cyclone.”
Albertina Clemente lost her home in Cyclone Kenneth and now worries about the impact the armed violence could have on her family. “The attacks are frequent,” she said. “We live in fear. We cannot sleep. Just yesterday we heard gunshots and some of us ran away to sleep in the bush.”
Others like Sumail Gomes are choosing to move to Macomia town before they are attacked. “I am leaving where I lived because the problem of the armed group is getting much worse,” he said.
The ICRC started to work in Cabo Delgado in 2018 and has since worked with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Mozambique Red Cross to provide seeds, farming tools, and other relief items to families in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth. It also reconstructed the maternity hospital in Macomia town after it was destroyed in the storm and is rehabilitating the local water system. However, this is just skimming the surface of the real needs.
“People have the double impact of the armed violence and the cyclone, which tore through the province at the beginning of the year, destroying many of the assets people had,” said Danzi. “It adds on top of what they have to do. They have to rebuild their lives twice.”