By Tendai Msengezi
Mozambique, like its neighbours, is faced with its worst drought this century and the people are justifiably frightened. Their com fields lie scorched and wasted, cattle are dying and water sources drying up with consequences likely to be catastrophic for this country.

“The loss of crops, lack of drinking water and the threatened extermination of livestock increases the vulnerability of people already debilitated by war and suffering chronic emergency conditions,” says a Mozambique Emergency Drought Appeal report for 1992-1993.

The report, prepared by the government in collaboration with the United Nations (UN), seeks to draw the attention of the international community and donor agencies to the situation in Mozambique so that relief efforts can be mobilized.

The current drought could result in more than three million people starving if action is not taken immediately. In December, the government and the UN calculated that 1, 8 million Mozambicans needed food aid for 1992. Total aid requirements of 986, 325 tonnes were expected to be sufficient.

However, the year-end rains failed and aid requirements had to be reconsidered. The new appeal asks for an additional 300,000 tonnes putting total needs at 1,386,350 tonnes of food in the form of maize, rice, wheat and other cereals for the 12 months beginning 1 May 1992.

Added to the 1, 8 million displaced people on the emergency programme are 1, 3 million others in drought-stricken areas where crops have been a tile off, for a total of 3, 1 million. War-damaged roads and bridges make delivery of food relief difficult, and the UN estimates that they may be able to reach only 800,000.

More than a decade of war has forced millions of Mozambicans to abandon their homes and farms to seek protection either in neighbouring countries or areas relatively free from the war. This has left them dependent on external aid for their survival. The war launched by South Africa using the Mozambique National Resistance (MNR) against the FRELIMO government has destroyed the country’s economic and social infrastructure.

A further 5,9 million urban dwellers depend on food they get through the market network. The drought has meant the dwindling of food supplies to these markets, thereby reducing the self-sufficiency of the people. The population in district capitals is now considered to be 100 per cent dependent on the market, while those in the rural areas retain a 20 per cent degree of self-sufficiency.

Secure access to the rural areas is limited because of war activities, thereby preventing adequate supplies of food from being delivered to the affected areas. Ambushes on relief convoys have increased significantly. According to the local media, the MNR burned 13 food trucks in the drought zones between March and April this year.

An estimated 100,000 people died in the drought that affected southern Mozambique from 1982-84, mainly because relief efforts were hampered by MNR activities.

In late April, the MNR leader, Afonso Dhlakama, told US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, that his movement would not hinder the passage of food aid vehicles. A few days later, he reversed his decision saying that he would not allow any such “corridors of peace” on the grounds that the government would “take advantage” of them.

In a recent interview with the London Observer, however, Dhlakama, talked about allowing food aid convoys to pass through areas controlled by his troops. But only if “effectively and independently monitored with no government or Renamo soldiers involved.”

The shortages of drinking water have exacerbated the problem. Rivers and wells are drying up and the water level is becoming precariously low in many areas of the country.

“Water will become increasingly scarce until the next rainy season, which would begin in November. There are already long queues for water, putting heavy pressure on existing wells and piped water supply systems … “adds the UN report.

Rains have at best been scant in the country’s 10 provinces and major rivers like the Limpopo have virtually dried up. Normally, the Limpopo provides the water that makes agriculture possible in the Gaza province, and when it dries up, so do the fields of peasant farmers. In its place now stands what looks like a wide dirt road – a situation which led deputy co-operation minister to comment that this drought must be worse than that of 1983-84.

In order to deal with an emergency situation of such magnitude, the government has taken measures aimed at improving emergency management. These include strengthening the Co-odinating Council for the Prevention and Combat of Natural Disasters (CCPCCN). The body responsible for the overall policy, strategy and management of the emergency programme.

In charge of the programme is Prime Minister, Mario Machungo. The Co-ordination Council consists of 11 government ministers, but the daily running of relief operations is in the hands of the National Executive Commission for the Emergency (CENE) and the Department for the Prevention and Combat of Natural Disasters (DPCCN).

The armed forces will be expected to provide the necessary security to ensure that food gets to those who need it. Customs procedures and levies are being revised to facilitate the speedy reception and clearance of emergency goods.

Unlike in the previous drought, the government is better organized to handle the arrival and distribution of relief supplies. What is now needed is for the food to arrive.

In order to avert another disaster, it is important that those in positions of influence, particularly the media, should make a concerted effort to highlight the plight of Mozambicans to the international community. (SARDC)

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