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Crisis in northern Mozambique: Cabo Delgado exhausted after 5 years of conflict

The displaced families on Maganja beach in Palma district had been waiting for two years to return to Mocimboa de Praia. Since Mocimboa was taken over by a group now calling itself Islamic State in the Province of Mozambique, these families had been living on a strip of beach a few dozen metres wide. They scavenged what they could from coconut trees, abandoned vegetable gardens and what they could catch without straying too far out among the reefs. Humanitarian aid was sporadic because access through dunes made it difficult for trucks to pass. Living conditions in Maganja were appalling, huddled on the beach strip, with no tarpaulins for a roof, and many without a miserable mat to sleep on, nowhere to wash or relieve themselves, family possessions limited to a bundle of whatever they could carry on their heads. And with no prospect of change.

The irony is that these 1,000-odd families are located at the back of the large LNG (liquefied natural gas) extraction complex on the Afungi peninsula. Beyond the beach or the safety of the gas complex very few people venture. A few fishermen and a few traders walk briskly along the sandy tracks, and at the slightest noise they wander into the forest until it is quiet again. There is no transport as private transport is not profitable in this area. Where would they go in any case, to Palma? This city has been trying to return to normality for a year now, ever since its 60,000 inhabitants fled an attack on the city that lasted several days. But Palma still has no hospital, no bank, no public services, the market is barely functioning and the service companies that work for the gas companies are closed.
In October 2022, families who were displaced in Maganja have been moved to Mocimboa de Praia by bus by the district authorities and with the support of the gas company. They are returning to the epicentre, where the conflict in Cabo Delgado began in a public way at the end of 2017. That year Mocimboa suffered a first assault and from that moment on became the emblematic of the situation. Repeatedly attacked, it fell into the hands of armed groups in August 2020 and it took a full year before Mozambican forces, with support of the Rwandan army, were able to take control of the town. And it has taken another full year before the population has started to return. By now, 25,000 people have returned to find the city destroyed in many of its neighbourhoods; everything still needs to be rebuilt. In the early hours of the morning, the only visible activity, apart from the military presence, is the queue at the temporary health post set up in a fish market in what used to be a shop, and the departure of dozens of fishermen in fragile boats.

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