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Coronavirus – Mozambique: Protecting people from conflict, cyclones and COVID-19 in Mozambique

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By the UN Resident Coordinator Myrta Kaulard, Laura Tomm-Bonde, IOM Chief of Mission and Samuel Chakwera, UNHCR Resident Representative, all based in Mozambique.

In the town of Montepuez, Cabo Delgado, in northern Mozambique, Zaina, a mother of four, is hosting her elderly mother, sister, and ten nieces and nephews, all of whom fled their villages due to the escalation of violence in the province. Now the relatives live together in Zaina's two-bedroom home and Zaina has welcomed them to stay while they are unable to return.

Normally, Zaina makes and sells popcorn and cakes to support her children. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, street sales are no longer allowed and she is currently seeking alternatives to provide for her household which has grown from five to 17 people. 

The UN Secretary-General, in the Policy Brief: COVID-19 and People on the Move, points out that COVID-19 hits the most vulnerable people the hardest, including refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons (IDPs). They are at increased risk, many having fled conflict and natural disasters, living in potentially crowded conditions in host communities or camps with limited resources to protect themselves, and often with a precarious livelihood.

COVID-19 compounding existing problems

These risks are also present in Mozambique. Just last year, Mozambique experienced two severe cyclones, Idai and Kenneth. As a result of the cyclones, over 100,000 people live now in resettlement sites, and hundreds of thousands more are still recovering. At the same time, drought has affected southern parts of the country while insecurity in the north has displaced over 250,000 people. The health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 are worsening these already complex dynamics.

Kiza Onesphor, a 49-year-old refugee and physician from Democratic Republic of the Congo, lives in Maratane Refugee Camp in the Province of Nampula. He was recruited as a Community Health Volunteer, along with other members from the refugee and local communities, to disseminate COVID-19 prevention measures. 

Kiza describes COVID-19 as a bomb for which no one was prepared. He believes the dangers of COVID-19 are not fully understood and aims to expand the understanding and self-protection capacities of around 9,500 refugees and asylum seekers living in Maratane. 

For Zaina, Kiza and their families, COVID-19 is a crisis on the top of other crises. Yet, they share the little they have, demonstrating the power of solidarity and how it is key to defeating COVID-19. Recognizing their contributions, the contributions of people on the move, is very important for COVID-19 response plans to include refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs and host communities.

Together with the Government and partners, the UN is working in full coordination with local and national authorities on harmonizing providing life-saving and life-sustaining assistance for all people living in Mozambique. 

Preventing the virus spreading in displacement camps

When providing humanitarian assistance, the priority is to save lives, ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are protected. To this end, the UN is supporting the national authorities-led health response to COVID-19 in scaling up Mozambique’s preparedness and response operations, especially by helping to prevent the spread of the virus in resettlement, transit and refugee camps; it is also supporting food assistance interventions.

The UN, humanitarian community, Mozambican institutions and partners are coming together and – along with host communities and local leaders – fostering a dialogue on how to strengthen communities’ support networks and resilience.

Peacebuilding and health education programmes in northern Mozambique are working in communities with large numbers of displaced families, to educate on COVID-19 prevention and promote community dialogue to strengthen social cohesion and mitigate social tensions induced by displacement. The UN is also providing shelter support for displaced families in northern Mozambique, to reduce crowding in host communities, and enable improved adherence to physical distancing precautions. 

We need to prioritize the creation of income-generating opportunities with focus on a recovery process that builds back better. From supporting tailors and community members in resettlement sites and refugee camps to produce hand-made face masks and providing families in resettlement sites with training and equipment to rear chickens and boost their livelihoods, UN Mozambique recognizes and is responding to the need for people on the move and host communities to support themselves and their families during and after the pandemic. 

We need to truly engage communities and harness their power, particularly the power of youth, to successfully trace the path towards a resilient society that can overcome COVID-19, security challenges and support people on the move with lasting peace. It is only through trust building and cohesion that we will be able to continue protecting and empowering people on the move and host communities.

National institutions’ response to contain and prevent the COVID-19 outbreak was swift, focused, and effective in reducing the spread of the disease. Three months after identifying the first case, there are currently over 2,000 cases in Mozambique. This demonstrates the urgency of continued preventive measures against the coronavirus.

UN $103 million appeals

The UN and humanitarian community recently launched two appeals, the COVID-19 Flash Appeal and the Rapid Response Plan for Cabo Delgado, totaling approximately $103 million, to address the most critical needs of millions of people facing severe humanitarian conditions, who would be unable to withstand the health and socio-economic impact of the pandemic, including those who have been displaced by the increasing insecurity in northern Mozambique.

Through these plans, the United Nations and the humanitarian community will continue to support Mozambique with progress toward sustainable development through the COVID-19 response. The UN has joined efforts with the international community to support cohesion in policies and engagement and to complement resource mobilization to provide Mozambique with the vital support needed during the COVID-19 period.

We have done all we could with the resources we had. A lot has been done, but additional efforts and resources are urgently needed. This is a time for true solidarity; a time for partners worldwide to stand together with Mozambique and to help protect the lives of the most vulnerable, to protect the lives of the many Zainas, Kizas and their families across the country. 

The United Nations is committed to continue working together hand in hand with Mozambican institutions and civil society to act and advance the lives of people on the move and the most vulnerable in Mozambique during this crisis and beyond.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN News.


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