Mozambique is struggling under the twin shocks of climate change and violence

October marked five years since extreme violence erupted in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province and nearly 1 million people were forced to flee their homes. The conflict has not abated and thousands of families are still forced to flee their homes as non-state armed insurgents attack and devastate the population.

People have witnessed loved ones beheaded, women and girls raped, and their homes and other infrastructure burned. Men and boys were forcibly included in armed groups. Livelihoods have been lost and education has faltered, while access to essentials like food and health care has been hampered.

The humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado has continued to deteriorate, with the number of forced displacements increasing by 20 percent to 946,508 in the first half of this year.

The conflict has now spilled over into neighboring provinces, where four attacks took place in September, affecting at least 47,000 people and displacing 12,000, mainly in Erati district of Nampula province and Pemba in Cabo Delgado. Attacks have recently occurred in Balama district, one of the last areas without violence since the conflict began in 2017.

A family rests in front of their new home at the Corrane IDP compound

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

People displaced during these latest attacks have told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that they are scared and hungry. They have no medication and live in a very small space – four to five families share a house. Some sleep in the open air. Lack of privacy and exposure to the cold at night and the elements during the day create additional safety and health concerns, particularly for women and children.

Families fleeing attacks in Cabo Delgado and taking refuge in neighboring Nampula province also faced climate disasters in March when Cyclone Gombe destroyed or badly damaged their homes. UNHCR has responded with humanitarian and protective assistance in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces, providing shelter and household items, assisting survivors of gender-based violence with legal, medical and psychosocial support, and assisting in obtaining legal documents.

Lucia Tomocene poses with students in her classroom at the school in the Maratane refugee settlement in Nampula province

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

Despite displacement, some have chosen to return to their home areas for many reasons, including the perceived improvement in security and the limited opportunities in the areas of displacement. The city of Palma experienced deadly attacks on March 24, 2021 that displaced most of its 70,000 residents. But the majority has returned in recent months.

Most return to areas where services and assistance are still scarce or unavailable, exposing them to multiple risks. UNHCR considers it premature to facilitate returns until the security situation is stable and basic services are restored. However, the growing protection needs and limited services for those who have chosen to return home remain an urgent need for authorities and humanitarian actors to address.

A young boy sits on a tree that was uprooted when Cyclone Gombe hit

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

A house in the Maratane refugee settlement in Nampula province was damaged by Cyclone Gombe in March

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

In addition to violence and displacement, Mozambique is suffering from a climate emergency. It is among the countries most affected by climate change, with expectations of experiencing more extreme and intense weather events. In March 2019, Cyclone Idai struck, followed by Cyclone Kenneth. About 250,000 people were displaced and 650 people were killed.

This year the country has experienced five tropical storms and cyclones, including Tropical Storm Ana in January and Cyclone Gombe in March, which affected 736,000 people and left a trail of destruction through Nampula and Zambezia provinces. Winds reached 120 miles per hour, mowing down homes, schools, roads and bridges, and flooding farmland. Fragile shelters that housed people displaced by violence didn’t stand a chance.

Workers from UNHCR partner Caritas build a new house for an internally displaced family in the Corrane IDP site

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

UNHCR and its partner Caritas have been helping those recently displaced by climate-related disasters to build new, stronger homes, such as at the Corrane site in Nampula province, which houses 7,000 people. When hit by Gombe, shelters were destroyed or badly damaged.

Displaced people are involved in the design, construction and reinforcement of their new homes to withstand climatic extremes. They prepare the clay for the walls and help the workers finish the roof.

Armando Macave, UNHCR Shelter Officer, checks the walls of a new shelter at the Corrane IDP site for displaced people

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

UNHCR Protection Officer Armando Macave said the focus is on creating shelters with overhanging roofs “to withstand gusts of wind” while improving overall stability. The houses are built of local wood and bamboo, reinforced with rope made from old tires and zinc sheet for the roofs.

To date, around 300 of the new shelters have been built in Corrane and there are plans to build another 250 soon and more in the surrounding communities in Maratane and Nampula. The settlement of Corrane, which houses 9,300 refugees, mostly from the DRC and Burundi, was also devastated by Gombe, with 80 percent of the shelters damaged and some completely destroyed.

Patrício Alberto Mponda is helping to build the walls of his family’s new home in Corrane IDP camp in Nampula province

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

Patricio Alberto Mponda’s village in Cabo Delgado has been attacked by armed groups three times in recent years. “The first two times we fled into the bush and returned to our homes after they looted everything,” he said. In the second attack, in April 2020, his 22-year-old nephew was shot and his 24-year-old daughter was kidnapped. He has had no information on her whereabouts since her kidnapping.

Mponda said: “During the third attack in July 2020, they burned down 70 houses including mine and beheaded some people. We had no choice but to flee for our lives. We ended up here in Corrane.”

Then disaster struck again. During Gombe, the roof of Mponda’s house in Corrane flew off and landed in the yard; the mud walls began to collapse. “Within minutes we were left out in the open,” he said.

His neighbors gave them shelter for a week while they built temporary shelter. Many other shelters in Corrane and Maratane were badly damaged that night. Now his new home is almost ready. He said: “The new shelter is much better. I know that should there be any new hurricanes or tropical storms I will feel safer in this house. What I need now is a piece of land to grow my own food and be independent.”

Dorotea irrigates her potato field in Nampula province

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

Dorotea Ndahisenga, a 35-year-old refugee from Burundi, had her home destroyed by Gombe. “It was really tragic,” she said. “Within minutes we were no longer at home. The roof collapsed just after I got my seven kids outside to safety. It was like escaping a conflict. The children wept; I felt very lonely and powerless. My husband left me earlier this year and there was no one to rely on.”

Ndahisenga and her children briefly took refuge in a neighbor’s house and then in an unoccupied emergency shelter, but they hope to move into a new home that the camp’s church is helping to build. Despite this help, every day is a struggle. “I grow potatoes on a small piece of land owned by a Mozambican. My crop was destroyed when Gombe scored, but I cleaned up the devastation and replanted. Now I have potatoes again.”

Dorotea stands in her future home in the Maratane refugee camp

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

Dorotea’s son Bukuru, 14, is in an emergency shelter

(Helene Caux/UNHCR)

She sells her produce to other refugees and uses the proceeds to buy other groceries, but it’s not enough. “I’m alone with seven children and I don’t know what our future holds. Hopefully soon we can move to our new house where we will feel at home.”

The climate crisis has increased the vulnerability of refugees and displaced people. The response to the crisis in northern Mozambique is an end to violence to allow displaced people to return home safely and with dignity, while supporting their efforts to address the effects of climate change. As of November 2022, the £30m UNHCR needs to provide life-saving protection services and relief in Mozambique this year is 68 per cent funded.

Find out more about UNHCR’s Mozambique emergency call here Mozambique is struggling under the twin shocks of climate change and violence


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