More than half a million people have fled their homes due to an Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique, and the violence and humanitarian crisis will worsen without international help, United Nations officials said on Wednesday.
“If nothing is done soon, we won’t have only 535 000 displaced people. We won’t have only 2 000 people killed by the conflict, but tens of thousands,” said Valentin Tapsoba, regional director for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
The displaced people were in a dire situation, with overcrowding, malnutrition and a lack of essentials including food and water, the officials said in an online news briefing.
Insurgents staged their first attack in Cabo Delgado province – where oil giants such as Total are involved in big gas projects – in 2017 and pledged allegiance to Islamic State two years later.
The conflict has escalated since, with attacks growing in scale and frequency and the militants regularly taking and holding entire towns.
The insecurity has left aid agencies unable to visit a huge swathe of the coastal province, while the number of people forced to flee their homes has swelled from 18 000 at the start of 2020 to over half a million by the end, Lola Castro, World Food Programme (WFP) regional director said.
Some households in the provincial capital Pemba are hosting several other families. One had opened its home to 66 other people who all slept in one room and shared one latrine, Tapsoba said.
“The situation in Cabo Delgado is appalling,” he said.
South Africa has offered to help Mozambique resolve its northern conflict, as the main player in the Southern African Development Community, a regional trade bloc, but Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told a virtual Chatham House event that the government had yet to take up the offer.
“We have made every effort to reach out to the government of Mozambique and to sit with them to define a support agenda,” she said.
“Our inability … to arrive at an agreement as to what … support we might provide remains a very worrying puzzle to us,” she said.
There was no immediate reply from Mozambique’s government to a request for comment.