War, drought threaten thousands in Mozambique


By Gil Lauriciano

GURO, MOZAMBIQUE — War and drought are threatening thousands of lives in the central region. Mozambique is considered the poorest country in southern Africa because of the civil war, which has been going on for 15 years, and natural calamities, which together have left 60% of the 15 million population in a state of absolute poverty.

Officials from the UN High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Program say that low rainfall in the central provinces of Manica and Sofala has resulted in 90% of crops being lost.

Here in Guro district, in the north of Manica, with around 35,000 inhabitants, it has not rained since the end of 1990. For more than one year, no supplies or emergency rations have reached local markets. Flying over the northern regions of the two provinces, one sees the desolate sight of rivers which have completely dried up. Parched fields of maize and sorghum surround most of the towns and villages.

"From what I have seen and the information received from humanitarian organisations working in various districts, the situation is rapidly growing worse", said Henrik Kolstrup, an official of the refugee commission in Manica province. Studies made last January by the French humanitarian organisation Doctors without Frontiers have shown that malnutrition in the poor districts of Guro is a serious problem.

People in Guro said the deterioration of the military situation since January had aggravated the effects of the drought. The security zone of the villages has been considerably reduced. Peasants cannot go to their small holdings, some located more than 10 kilometres distant from their homes, for fear of being intercepted by Renamo (Mozambique National Resistance or MNR) guerillas. Renamo cannot feed its troops, so they survive by robbing the peasants.

Anosse Jeque, an elderly Mozambican who fled from an area controlled by the rebels in the district of Marringue in the province of Sofala, told me that Renamo had become "more cruel" since the drought has made food scarce.

"We contribute a tin of flour weekly, but it's a long time since it rained, and the people have nothing. When we tell them we don't have anything to give, they beat us. Sometimes to death", he said.

The northern regions of Manica and Sofala were under the protection of Zimbabwean troops, who also guaranteed distribution of supplies from the cities of Beira and Chimoio to Guro, Marringue, Catandica and Macossa.

Those troops withdrew following the partial cease-fire signed between the Mozambique government and Renamo in Rome last December. As part of the truce, the Zimbabwean troops which were supporting the government of Maputo were confined to defensive positions along the railway-port corridors which serve to link Zimbabwe to Beira (in the country's centre) and Maputo in southern Mozambique.

Withdrawal of the Zimbabwe troops, which for several years have had Sofala, has had serious consequences for the people. Since January, Renamo has recovered control over a large part of the districts of Marringue, Macossa and Guro. — Inter Press Service