YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As Islamic State-affiliated insurgents continue to wreak havoc in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, tens of thousands are in need of urgent humanitarian aid.
The United Nations estimates more than 2,500 people have been killed in the conflict and 700,000 displaced.
The country’s Catholic bishops have described the situation as “tragic.”
Ana Ferreira, Catholic Relief Services’ country manager for Mozambique told Crux that “a suppressed economy, a depressed labor market and a sense of political marginalization,” are the factors that underpin the crisis.
“Young people thought these opportunities had arrived with the discovery of natural gas and rubies in Cabo Delgado, but the jobs from these industries have gone to people from outside of the province and in many cases, outside of Mozambique. Many residents now feel their constrained economic power in a new, acute way,” she said.
“In this environment with so many cross-cutting factors and limited opportunities to address them, young people are susceptible to recruitment by armed groups. These groups provide an opportunity to address some of these factors, even through violence, that may look attractive to many young people,” Ferreira added.
What follows are excerpts of her email interview with Crux.
Crux: The bishops of Mozambique have deplored the “tragic situation in which the people of Cabo Delgado live.” How would you describe that situation?
Ferreira: We are seeing a situation where people in the areas affected by the conflict are being hemmed in on all sides. Many of these families were displaced by Cyclone Kenneth in 2019 and lost everything – crops, houses, belongings, and farm tools to the floods and winds. CRS supported many in the area to rebuild and recover.
However, with the intensifying conflict and accompanying violence over the last year, families are going through another devastating circle. Constant trauma, loss of life, and the need to abandon property to search for safety outside of the most intense fighting are all very common experiences among the displaced people. Once on the run, many walk hundreds of kilometers and arrive in new communities in tragic conditions, such as urgent need for medical care, lack of food, lack of water, and exhaustion.
The communities that are receiving these displaced people are also the same communities that were affected by Cyclone Kenneth in 2019. Resources and infrastructure in the host communities were already stressed and inadequate. So although families in comparably more peaceful communities have opened their homes and resources to people displaced by violence, resources are under enormous strain. Many of the host families that were initially a six-person unit, for instance, now have 20 to 30 people living in the same two room space. Our teams have also encountered families living with 80 people in one household.
Currently there are more than 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Cabo Delgado and the need vastly outpaces the resources to meet even the most basic needs for them.
What are the basic needs of these people?
Families are arriving in southern districts outside of the conflict zone with little or nothing. The most critical need is for food, and we do provide food, including non-perishable food to people who have been displaced. While non-perishable foods would be ideal, due to cost and local availability, we supply basic staple food – maize, rice, and beans.
In crowded conditions there is a high risk of communicable diseases such as cholera. Because of this and other life-threatening, yet preventable diseases, there is a keen need for items that help people maintain their hygiene and dignity in situations where they are living in cramped conditions. Things like cooking utensils, soap, latrines, clean water sources and water purification tablets are very important.
Many of the people fleeing violence are unsheltered or in unsafe and crowded conditions with people from multiple households in one space. Shelter is the most basic component we consider when thinking about the protection needs of people living in these conditions. It is essential to give women and girls the privacy and safety they often do not have in unsheltered or overcrowded conditions. It is also critical to shelter families from the increasingly cold and rainy weather and focus on decreasing the risk of diseases for many people staying in crowded conditions, including the risk of COVID-19.
One need that is often overlooked is the psychosocial aspect of conflict. Many internally displaced persons (IDPs) we work with exhibit signs of trauma which can complicate all kinds of recovery. CRS is working closely with local Caritas to explore options for peacebuilding programs to create safe spaces for those experiencing trauma. Peacebuilding activities are important to build and support cohesive new communities for the displaced people, whereas psychosocial support is important to give everyone, but particularly young people, tools to process their trauma apart from joining the non-state armed groups.
It certainly hasn’t been an easy task for CRS?
Catholic Relief Services works with local Catholic partners to build a comprehensive emergency program that provides holistic recovery to displaced people. CRS supports local Caritas to lead an emergency response that focuses on providing services to meet the immediate needs of families and others displaced or affected by conflict. This includes food rations, temporary shelter to prepare IDPs for the possibility of a protracted displacement, shelter kits for those who have started construction but are unable to finish due to a variety of factors, temporary latrine structures, and distributions of household consumables such as soap.
Working with Caritas, CRS plans to build on our current emergency response activities to serve communities through peacebuilding efforts. The intention is to train local church partners to lead the peacebuilding and reconciliation process for families and communities affected by the armed violence in partnership with other faith leaders.
Given that this is a war situation, what challenges do you face as a humanitarian organization accessing the people in need?
As the fighting spreads and intensifies, there are increasingly more “no-go” areas for humanitarian organizations. The local Caritas and CRS continually engage with the Mozambican government and other humanitarian organizations to advocate for greater access despite logistical challenges. Many land routes to rural areas are no longer safe to travel, and though air travel is being provided by the World Food Program, it is difficult to transport large quantities of food or other aid. Due to these logistical challenges, it is also very difficult to get accurate information on the conflict.
The local Caritas maintains contacts with all parishes and uses creative ways to get small amounts of aid to those communities. For example, Caritas Pemba works with a priest at the parish in Mueda. When Caritas Pemba is able to raise money, they use local mobile money infrastructure to send money to the priest with the intention of providing food to those displaced in that community. However, instances like those are a drop in the bucket when you look at the sheer size of the need.
What are the underlying causes of this conflict?
The key underlaying causes for the conflict are a suppressed economy, a depressed labor market and a sense of political marginalization.
Years of poor harvests in communities predominantly dependent on small scale farming produced a situation where young people who would normally be engaged in agri-business are looking for other opportunities. Young people thought these opportunities had arrived with the discovery of natural gas and rubies in Cabo Delgado, but the jobs from these industries have gone to people from outside of the province and in many cases, outside of Mozambique. Many residents now feel their constrained economic power in a new, acute way.
Cabo Delgado is geographically and culturally distant from the center of power in Mozambique, Maputo, the capital where the central government is seated. The political power still originates from Maputo. However, the economic potential arising from the discovery of natural gas and rubies in Cabo Delgado has moved the economic-political balance and created a sense of discontent for many residents of Cabo Delgado who expected an improved quality of life from this shift.
In this environment with so many cross-cutting factors and limited opportunities to address them, young people are susceptible to recruitment by armed groups. These groups provide an opportunity to address some of these factors, even through violence, that may look attractive to many young people.