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Explained: The Cabo Delgado crisis in Mozambique

13 Jul 22 | 14 Jul 22

Explained: The Cabo Delgado crisis in Mozambique

Cabo Delgado is one of Mozambique’s most volatile regions.

The northern province has been the scene of an intense conflict since October 2017, resulting in around 800,000 people being forced to flee their homes.

However, despite its severity, the situation in Cabo Delgado has been largely forgotten.

As Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams respond to the emergency, here are three things you should know:

1 | Violence is causing a mass displacement of people

Throughout June, fears of violence followed by confirmed attacks have triggered panic and mass movements of people from areas such as Ancuabe and Chiure – near the provincial capital Pemba – that were previously considered relatively stable.

More than 30,000 people are thought to be on the move as a result of the ongoing wave of violence. 

This is the largest movement of displaced people so far this year. Many people have fled multiple times, forced on each occasion to abandon their few possessions and means of survival. 

An MSF team distributes kits of essential items to people in Ntele Caption
An MSF team distributes kits of essential items to people in Ntele

Over the past year, Mozambican armed forces and regional allies have increased their presence in several regions. 

The hotspots of the violence have shifted geographically, and people have begun to return to places that came under attack previously or were under the control of non-state armed groups. The situation remains very fluid. 

MSF teams are distributing relief items in various locations where people are sheltering, such as Ntele, where more than 1,000 families arrived in late June. Most arrived with few or no possessions and experiencing psychological distress. 

So far, MSF teams have distributed 701 kits containing essential relief items including tents, jerrycans, cooking pots and mosquito nets. 

At the same time, our teams continue to provide critical support in areas with established MSF projects such as Macomia, Mueda and Palma.

2 | Humanitarian needs are huge, but aid is limited

Some areas in Cabo Delgado already hosted large numbers of displaced people and are now having to adapt to a fresh influx of arrivals. This has an impact on local communities.

However, in most places, the humanitarian aid available is massively insufficient for people’s needs.

Overall, there is a large number of vulnerable people with substantial humanitarian needs, including healthcare, water and sanitation, and food. 

In some of the harder-to-reach areas, particularly in northern and central parts of the province, assistance is very limited.

People drawing water from a borehole built by MSF in Xinavane, where a large number of people are sheltering Caption
People drawing water from a borehole built by MSF in Xinavane, where a large number of people are sheltering

MSF teams are working in districts where people have had their lives overturned by fear of attacks, counter-attacks and unpredictable eruptions of violence. 

In some cases, MSF is the only international humanitarian organisation working there on a permanent basis, despite the clear need for much more aid. 

Many people avoid the towns at night because they feel they will be safer out in the fields and the bush. But here they face other dangers, such as malaria, which is a significant problem. 

In Macomia, for example, four out of every ten adults coming to our clinics in May, and eight out of every ten children, tested positive for this deadly disease. 

Across the province, specialist care for chronic medical conditions, such as HIV, is also often unavailable, despite the prevalence of such diseases in the area. 

In Mueda, a hill town in the north of Cabo Delgado, where MSF teams work in the local hospital and run mobile clinics, we have seen the condition of many patients worsen after their treatment for long-term illness was interrupted.

At MSF's out-patient department in Batil refugee camp Gandhi Pant, a nurse, escorts a patient with a possible appendicitis to a waiting ambulance. 

Batil is one of three camps in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State sheltering at least 113,000 refugees who have crossed the border from Blue Nile state to escape fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLM-North armed group. Refugees arrive at the camp with harrowing stories of being bombed out of their homes, or having their villages burned. The camps into which they have poured are on a vast floodplain, leaving many tents flooded and refugees vulnerable to disease. Mortality rates in Batil camp are at emergency levels, malnutrition rates are more than five times above emergency thresholds, and diarrhea and malarial cases are rising.

Help us prepare for the next emergency

3 | The crisis is taking a heavy toll on mental health 

The crisis in Cabo Delgado is far from over. 

With the violence continuing unabated, hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from the effects of fear, violence and displacement – both in terms of their physical and mental health

A team of MSF health promoters talk to people at a clinic in Nanga Caption
A team of MSF health promoters talk to people at a clinic in Nanga

Almost everyone in the region has experienced trauma of some kind during this conflict, as a result of witnessing or experiencing violence or losing their loved ones or their homes.

As long as we can ensure that our teams are safe, we will continue to strive to reach the most vulnerable people in Cabo Delgado, wherever they are. 

With such huge humanitarian needs, it is critical that people can access aid.  

MSF in Mozambique

Situated on Africa’s southeast coast, Mozambique is a scenic country that is resource-rich and biologically and culturally diverse.

However, its nearly 30 million people are still recovering from the effects of a 16-year civil war, and, more recently, a string of natural disasters.