The UN is attempting to step up its humanitarian relief efforts to northern Mozambique where, after a week of fighting, ISIS-backed rebels now control roughly half the town of Palma. Unfortunately for all, a lack of international coordination and funding is slowing the response to the unfolding tragedy.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a statement Monday citing grave risk for women and children in the region of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, which has been the target of brutal Islamist attacks for four years. The statement also noted that humanitarian efforts were currently hampered by the fact that a fundraising appeal has only achieved one percent of its desired goal of $254 million.
It is estimated that tens of thousands will be displaced by the violence around Palma, which until Wednesday had a population of some 70,000 and served as a gateway to Africa’s largest liquified natural gas project. About 5,300 refugees from the siege have been registered throughout Cabo Delgado, with many fleeing by rescue boat to the provincial capital of Pemba, some 150 miles south as the crow flies.
The international response to the ongoing violence in Palma and Cabo Delgado more generally has thus far been one of public denouncements and promises of military aid.
Portugal announced that it will be sending 60 military personnel to the region in an effort to bolster the security capabilities of its former colony. Meanwhile, a number of British SAS in Kenya are standing by in the event that more British workers need rescuing and a dozen soldiers from US Special Forces deployed to Mozambique earlier in the month to assist with counterinsurgency operations.
That nations are concerned with evacuating and assisting their own people is understandable, and even admirable, but it will not be near enough to help stabilize the region and prevent even greater suffering from sweeping through Eastern Africa in years to come.
For that, a coordinated international effort to bring direly needed humanitarian assistance to the region is necessary.
Mozambique, like many African nations, has been buffeted over the last year by a so-called “triple threat” of climate catastrophes, endemic conflict, and COVID-19. Its people are increasingly tired, hungry, without shelter, targeted for the depredations of extremist rebels, lacking in basic necessities, and plagued by diseases that are preventable with medications common to more developed nations.
Put simply, military assistance is needed to secure some semblance of political stability, but that stability will be useless so long as the people of Mozambique are caught between the brutality of insurgency and the oppressiveness of endemic corruption.
The world has feasted its eyes on government-led tragedies such as those in Syria and Myanmar. Chest thumping by the international community has indeed become something close to banal when it comes to those conflicts that might be used as a proxy for gray zone warfare between the great powers.
Yet when faced the specter of utterly preventable tragedy and needless suffering in southern Africa, the necessary international aid packages just can’t be found.
The world has extracted value from Africa for centuries. The many tragedies in Mozambique, however, are an opportunity to invest.