Nature’s War on Mozambique
Rage and Repeat
This is Kongolote Refugee Camp, a few miles from Mozambique’s capital of Maputo, and a few months after a cyclone struck with its savage rains. Nature’s wrath is familiar to this African country; it wreaks havoc here every couple of years. When the water reaches impossibly high levels, desperate locals cling to trees, climb to rooftops, and hope that boats and recovery helicopters spot them in time. After washing away lives, tropical storms leave people languishing in camps where the endless lines of canvas tents are caked in dried mud and the hot air is thick with dust. These restless children are among many millions forced from flooded areas to dry patches of land. This is circa 2000; today they’re probably parents, even grandparents. Once again, they’re under water as Mozambique staggers from the most deadly, most costly cyclone that’s ever swept across this part of the Indian Ocean’s coastline.
Aid groups know this country as the epicenter for the region’s storms and geohazards that level enormous swaths of land, stripping survivors of homes they’ll never replace. 2019 brought back-to-back cyclones, obliterating the nation’s harvests and farms. The torrential rains persist, collapsing infrastructure and intensifying challenges to meet emergency needs. Major health groups like UNICEF, WHO, and Médecins Sans Frontières scramble to beat back deadly cholera outbreaks. Every day brings a higher death toll, another threat.
Consider the context: wracked by a 16-year civil war that left a million dead and the people divided, most Mozambicans live in extreme poverty. The government favors the loyal and punishes the opposition. Storm after storm breaks up families, leaving women, and especially children, vulnerable to sexual abuse and human trafficking. Migrant health is a vexing problem in Southeastern Africa, where HIV and TB infection rates are the world’s worst. Here, it’s complicated by Mozambique’s escalating exploitation of children, something that labor and human rights watchdogs have in focus. Some 30% of the country’s youth, aged 5 to 15 are forced into labor. Unchecked, this trend could overtake the percentage of boys and girls attending school. Indeed, a leading indicator of economic development—the education of girls—barely registers in Mozambique. Nearly half the country’s girls aged 15 years and older are illiterate.
Clearly, the country’s problems extend far beyond the short term. It will take a combination of international staying power, perhaps pressure, and local commitment to help this nation avert its next set of crises. Mozambique needs homegrown capabilities –a strong medical community with schools, doctors, clinics, and hospitals that not only treat post-disaster trauma but also engage the public in ways to blunt its impact. Repeated and untreated shock, or PTSD, compounds physical and mental illness. Yet broader society treats mounting anxiety, depression, and other disorders with fear, suspicion, and violence. Aid, in its many forms, has a hard time penetrating these deep-rooted problems.
So how can hard-hit areas rebound, much less move ahead, when the assistance wanes or simply disappears? Jessica Moses is a humanitarian policy specialist with CARE, one of the international relief groups tackling urgencies in Mozambique and one that will remain to work on longer-term poverty reduction for women and girls. Worldwide, CARE’s ratio is similar: it commits 24 percent of its overall resources to relief by providing clean water, food, and shelter, while investing the balance in securing the future, like creating pathways to send girls to school. Moses contends “relief to early recovery works best when donors, NGOs, and multilateral organizations work in lock step” and host governments are fully engaged. That seems remote, given Mozambique’s instability. The UN just pledged $10,000,000 in immediate funds, but says Mozambique needs five times that amount right now.
Interested in helping secure communities in the wake of disaster? Get a roadmap from the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Humanitarian Emergencies. CARE, Save the Children, International Medical Corps, and The UN’s International Disaster Relief System all deploy professionals and volunteers to Mozambique, and neighboring Malawi and Zimbabwe. You’ll also find local organizations like The Hunger Project working on poverty prevention and nutritional levels in the region.