A recent spate of violence in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province has displaced thousands of people already affected by five years of conflict. At the same time, Mozambique is currently highly threatened by extreme weather events, with an annual tropical storm cycle leaving people little time to recover between storms.
In addition, many people in Cabo Delgado are now extremely vulnerable due to displacement and lack of access to medical care. In the past two weeks, local authorities have reported more than 20 attacks on four villages, with 2,800 homes damaged or destroyed by fire.
The current crisis is concentrated in the center of Cabo Delgado, particularly in the Meluco and South Macomia districts. Since the end of January, more than 14,000 people have been forced to leave their homes due to the escalating conflict and are now looking for safety and basic means of survival. This is the largest wave of displacement in several months.
“Violent attacks and ongoing insecurity in several districts in central Cabo Delgado have forced thousands of people from their homes with nothing but what to carry, just as the cyclone and rainy season are beginning,” says Raphael Veicht, Head of Médecins Sans Frontières Emergency Unit.
“It’s a very dangerous combination. Our teams are responding to the new waves of forced displacement by providing people with basic healthcare, much-needed household and shelter. We are extremely concerned about the protection of civilians in this acute and escalating conflict,” says Veicht.
Last week, Tropical Storm Ana — the first tropical storm of the season — made landfall in Mozambique’s Nampula and Tete provinces. Displaced people in Cabo Delgado province will be extremely vulnerable to future tropical storms as many live without shelter, clean water or sanitation. Storms often cause flooding, which greatly increases the risk of outbreaks of life-threatening communicable diseases such as malaria and diarrheal diseases.
In the central province of Cabo Delgado, many displaced people have gathered in small villages and towns such as Mitambo, Ancuabe and Nanjua, where MSF teams have been running mobile clinics and distributing food, shelter and hygiene kits to 800 families since late January. However, these villages lack the basic infrastructure to support so many people, particularly clean water, shelter and access to health care.
“In Mitambo, where we ran mobile clinics and food distribution, the situation became very tense as more and more displaced people entered the village,” says Jean-Jacques Mandagot, MSF project coordinator.
“Some slept in fields while others hid in thatched houses left empty by residents who had already gone to a safer place. Some people stayed one night and moved on to seek safer areas, while others stayed longer because they lacked the funds to continue,” Mandagot says.
There is no permanent health center in Mitambo and the village lacks vital infrastructure such as drinking water supply. Previously, residents traveled to a health center in a nearby village, but with the current uncertainty, people have had to travel much further and at greater risk – while some people have had no access to health care at all because they cannot afford or are unwilling to travel were these risks to be taken. As a result, our mobile clinics in Mitambo had to fill in the gaps at the end of January.
“Every day, our team conducted more than 200 medical consultations, and we treated more than 2,000 patients in a single week,” says Mandagot. “We saw many people with malaria, cough, fever and diarrhea. Many patients also experience physical pain in their legs and back from their hard journeys while escaping danger.
“One man told me he lost all his possessions – his house, his food supplies – and left him with nothing. He said he was now forced to beg for food and no longer wanted to be near his village or anywhere that would remind him of the life lost.”
On January 26, a village near Mitambo was attacked and gunfire was heard, prompting people to continue south towards the village of Maua in search of safety. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently affected by the violence in Cabo Delgado province, which has escalated over the past five years.
With the onset of rain and hurricane season, the cumulative effects of years of conflict, and the deepening humanitarian emergency, it is more important than ever for MSF teams to have full and safe access to the area so they can reach people with much-needed supplies can provide medical care.
“It is absolutely critical that medicines and medical supplies can be imported quickly and without bureaucratic delays so that MSF can scale up the delivery of life-saving healthcare in Cabo Delgado province,” says Veicht.