Armed violence in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, has left scores of people homeless, while villages and health centres have been destroyed.
On Wednesday, 4 December 2019, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that the armed violence has also made it difficult for families to recover from two cyclones, which hit the area earlier this year. The ICRC said it is concerned about the impact of the armed violence on displaced Mozambicans and their host communities, should this pattern continue.
“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,” he lamented.
People like him are seeking refuge in the relative safety of larger towns such as Macomia, putting a strain on already scarce resources.
Some of them 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.
“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,” she added.
In the last two years, hundreds of people have been wounded and killed, homes burned down, and property looted, the ICRC said.
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,” she added.
Most of those displaced by the armed violence are living with local families who are generously sharing their homes and what resources they have.
The armed violence is also affecting people’s ability to feed their families.
Many increasingly turn 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, ICRC said.
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 three dollars for one 50kg bag of charcoal.
“Here, there has been a lot of hunger due to armed violence and the cyclone,” he said.
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,” she said.
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.