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Southern African Bishops Create Humanitarian Desk in Mozambique to Address Growing Crisis

Women and children at a camp in Pemba

In an attempt to describe the humanitarian crisis in Mozambique, Johan Viljoen who works with the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) recalls a particular heart wrenching image that summed up the Darfur hunger crisis.

It is photographer Kevin Carter’s iconic image of an emaciated boy crouching on the ground, naked with his face almost touching the ground and a vulture standing behind him, probably waiting for the boy to die so that it can scavenge on him.

“Anyone that can remember this image that caught the attention of the whole world, sending many into painful tears should know that children and mothers in several parts of Mozambique are facing a similar crisis,” Johan, the Director of Denis Hurley Peace Institute tells ACI Africa in an interview Thursday, March 18.

Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) is SACBC’s initiative to serve people in conflict situations.

A humanitarian desk within Mozambique’s Nampula Ecclesiastical Province that comprises Nampula Archdiocese and the Dioceses of Gurue, Lichinga, Nacala, and Pemba where Cabo Delgado is located, is the latest on the list of DHPI’s initiatives. It has other initiatives in Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, among other African countries.

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“The humanitarian crisis here is getting worse by the day,” Johan says of the situation in Mozambique, and adds, “People fleeing Pemba have filled the camps in Nampula and they can hardly find any food to eat. Many walk for days and nights and get to their destinations dehydrated and at the verge of starvation.”

The SACBC official whose organization is in direct contact with people at the heart of the conflict zone in Mozambique says Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the country are going to extreme lengths to survive.

“Women go into forests to collect grass which they prepare using pestles and mortars to make soup. That is the only thing available for them to live on at the moment. And it isn’t enough because they are many,” he says.

Reports indicate that more than 2,500 people have been killed and 700,000 have fled their homes since insurgency in Mozambique began in 2017. Johan tells ACI Africa that there are more than 50,000 IDPs in Nampula alone and that the number is rising by the day.

The Peace Institute has been conducting fundraising activities for the displaced people in Mozambique, among other initiatives to alleviate the suffering of the people in the affected region.

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In its latest initiatives in the country, the Institute organized last year’s solidarity visit by the SACBC members to the country and also wrote to the country’s President, Filipe Nyusi, a move that saw the President visit the then Local Ordinary of the Catholic Diocese of Pemba, Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa.

The newly established humanitarian desk in the country is to help Caritas Nampula in discharging services among the people, who, according to the DHPI official, do not have the proper management skills.

“At the moment, we are doing a good job in fundraising for the people but Caritas Nampula only has a skeleton staff of just about two volunteers. These important arms of the Church in Nampula don't have the required financial management skills to handle the finances for the people,” Johan told ACI Africa March 18.

He added in reference to Mozambique’s Ecclesiastical Province of Nampula, “As we speak, we have sent our own volunteer from Mexico who will help in setting up a proper Caritas office at the Diocese. The people need it now more than ever. Our volunteer started working today (March 18).”

The SACBC official says that the Catholic Church, through various Caritas entities, is the closest to the people who are at the core of the conflict in Mozambique.

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“The Catholic Church is not only reaching to the people through various aid programs but is also the most credible source of information in the region that has been cut from the outside world,” he says.

There is especially a crackdown on journalists in the areas of extreme violence in the country, the DHPI Director tells ACI Africa, adding that civilians found interacting with journalists from within the camps are apprehended.

Asked about reported beheading of children in the Southern African nation, the Catholic Church official said that there was no “photographic evidence” of atrocities bordering beheading, which he said is associated with the Islamic jihad.

He faulted western media for framing the ongoing crisis in Mozambique as motivated by religious differences and a move to establish an Islamic State in the country’s Northern region.

Johan said that last year’s reports of beheading of more than 50 people at a football pitch in Mozambique were not true, adding that a Priest at a Church that was vandalized in the village verified the attack, which he witnessed.

“When we went to Mozambique last year on the solidarity visit, we talked at length with a Priest whose mission had been burned down in Muidumbe (a District in Cabo Delgado, Pemba Diocese). He told us that though many people were killed that day, none of them was by beheading,” Johan recalled during the March 18 interview with ACI Africa.

He added, “The western media is demonizing Islam to try and advance their interest in Northern Mozambique when they clearly have their own economic interests in the region that has been found to have natural gas and oil.”

He reported increased U.S. military activity in Cabo Delgado that has seen an increase in the number of troops, military and training.

The situation, he says, has led to a “dramatic escalation of the crisis in the country.”

“Local people were hoping that the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADEC) and other regional bodies would come in and help resolve the conflict. But with the U.S. involvement, the conflict has taken a very complicated international dimension,” Johan told ACI Africa.