The armed conflict in northern Mozambique continued to escalate in the first half of 2021, driving widespread displacement and a rapidly growing humanitarian crisis. The number of people internally displaced by the violence increased from 172,000 in April 2020 to over 732,000 people by the end of April 2021. Most recently, the attack on Palma on 24 March 2021 and following clashes across the district have forced nearly 68,000 people to flee their homes and move to safer areas.
At least 30 per cent of people displaced in northern Mozambique have now had to flee multiple times, and the new wave of displacement from Palma since March has uprooted thousands of people who sought refuge in the district after being displaced from other parts of Cabo Delgado. Most people left with no more than the clothes on their back, and arrived at their destinations exhausted, traumatized, injured and in need of urgent medical attention and psychosocial support. In addition to those who fled through dangerous and difficult routes inside Mozambique—both by road and sea—in search of safety, almost 3,800 people tried to seek asylum in Tanzania but were forcibly returned to Mozambique through the Negomano border point in May, according to Mozambican border authorities and UNHCR.
Repeated displacement and the consequent destruction of livelihoods are exhausting families’ already scarce resources, increasing the adoption of negative coping mechanisms, including child marriage. At least 51 children, most of them girls, were abducted by non-state armed groups in Cabo Delgado over the past 12 months, according to new analysis by Save the Children. There were also reports in May of women and girls being abducted, forced into marriage, and subjected to sexual violence, as well as of children being forcibly recruited into armed groups, according to UNHCR.
More than 900,000 people are severely food insecure and displaced people and host communities are also in urgent need of shelter, protection and other services. Hunger is not only increasing in rural zones but also in urban centres, including Cabo Delgado’s capital, Pemba, which hosts the highest number of displaced people in the province (157,000) and where 40 per cent of people are facing high acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and above), according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis. The massive displacement is also straining meagre resources of host communities, as more than 80 per cent of people who fled the conflict are staying with family and friends.
People in Cabo Delgado are also facing multiple health emergencies, increasing the pressure on the fragile health system. Malaria cases were well above the level in 2020, with nearly 343,000 cases and 30 deaths reported between January and May 2021, compared to around 205,000 cases and 15 deaths in the same period of 2020. Febrile syndrome affected more than 67,200 people from January to May, while at least 10 cases of acute flaccid paralysis were reported in the same period. While no new cases of the plague were reported in May, some 85 people were affected earlier in the year. The cholera situation, on the other hand, significantly improved in May, with no new cases identified in Cabo Delgado and 65 in Nampula, where only 5 people contracted the disease in the last week of the month.
Humanitarian organizations are working to scale-up the response and have assisted more than 710,000 people in the first four months of 2021. However, the severe lack of funding is hampering the response. Aid agencies in Mozambique have received only US$22.3 million—about 9 per cent—of the $254 million required to provide life-saving assistance and protection to 1.1 million people in Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula, according to the Financial Tracking Service. While further funding is under discussion, more is needed immediately to ensure that humanitarian organizations can save lives and alleviate suffering. Without additional funding, humanitarian partners will be forced to stop essential programmes, and hundreds of thousands of people will not receive the assistance they need to survive.