Mozambique: Conflict and extreme climate events worsen humanitarian emergency in Cabo Delgado

Hundreds of thousands of people in Mozambique’s northeastern province of Cabo Delgado have been displaced over the past several years as government forces clash with non-state armed groups. In addition to recent renewed waves of violence, the country—one of the most at risk for extreme weather events—is currently experiencing its annual tropical storm cycle and facing an increased risk of life-threatening disease outbreaks.

Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) emergency coordinator in Mozambique, reflects on the worsening humanitarian emergency and people’s precarious access to medical care:

Last month, our team was struck by the reality of the conflict in Cabo Delgado. The father of Matilde, one of our colleagues, was beheaded in an attack while he was working the land in a village in northern Macomia district of Cabo Delgado province. Matilde and her family had the heartbreaking and dangerous task of collecting his remains so they could bury him with dignity.

A week later, the son of another colleague, Salvador, died of diarrhea in Cuamba. He was only 20 months old. The conditions of the health centers are extremely poor, and accessing services is a nightmare. The lack of health care for civilians in Cabo Delgado is as shocking as their vulnerability to the atrocities of the ongoing conflict.

With more than 3,500 deaths and hundreds of thousands of people being forced from their homes, the war drags on. Since the end of January, about 15,000 people have been forcibly displaced in the district of Meluco alone. Hundreds of houses have been burned to the ground, people’s crops have been stolen, and we still do not know the exact number of people killed. Bodies are counted by the dozens.

At our medical projects, people arrive empty-handed after several days without having eaten. Our teams often have to provide T-shirts and flip-flops, as well as other essential goods and food rations, at transit points where people arrive after fleeing their homes.

The day-to-day reality in Cabo Delgado shows that the crisis is not over. In this region, communities’ desperate and helpless attempts to improve their situations come up against economic challenges, an absent State, and attacks by armed groups. Many young people do not have jobs or education, leaving them vulnerable to recruitment into armed groups.

These issues are not going to disappear overnight. This war has left 15,000 square kilometers [nearly 6,000 square miles] in six districts of Cabo Delgado—once vibrant and animated—completely uninhabited. This is an expanse of territory—bigger than Qatar, Jamaica, or Gambia—where people can no longer live, harvest, or fish. Armed groups are, as people say here, infernizando—tormenting—communities. People are terrified; from our own experience, it only takes the sound of a few gunshots or other indications of looming insecurity to empty an entire town in a matter of minutes.

Yet, people here are astonishingly resilient. They rebuild their homes at least a couple of times a year. Most of them have been displaced multiple times. If it is not the war, extreme climate events force them from their homes. Up to eight tropical storms are expected this cyclone season. The first storm has already wreaked havoc in Nampula province, south of Cabo Delgado. Facing this threat, people are vigilant, but remain unprotected.

Is it a question of funds—are there enough? There has been more than $760 million allocated by international institutions to Mozambique's North Integrated Development Agency (ADIN), a government recovery fund created in 2020. Companies operating in the region have also allocated funds to families, including those living near the Afungi liquefied natural gas plant near Palma, which was hit hard by violence last March. The European Union is in talks with the Mozambican government regarding further aid and cooperation. However, humanitarian aid funds—those dedicated specifically to addressing the emergency needs—are much more modest and are mostly limited to feeding people who have neither land nor work.

But it is not only a matter of money; the situation could be different if the economic and political projects designed for Cabo Delgado were also aimed at building strong communities that are prepared for future conflict and climate threats. If the marginalization of people does not stop, communities will remain insecure and vulnerable, and the conflict will continue provoking immense suffering.