The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWS NET, has issued a warning that Mozambique's 2003 harvest is likely to be extremely poor throughout the southern third of the country, and in parts of the central region. Hundreds of thousands of people in southern and central Mozambique have been suffering the results of the poor 2002 harvest. But insufficient and erratic rainfall has dashed hopes of a recovery this year. Exactly the same areas hit by drought in 2002 are also likely to face miserably low harvests this year.
According to FEWS NET, the staple crop of maize will be largely lost in drought affected areas, and beans and groundnuts will also be severely affected. Even drought tolerant crops such as sorghum and millet, and recently planted cassava, are showing signs of stress.
The FEWS NET findings show that in Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo provinces virtually all districts are facing near crop failure. Parts of Sofala, Tete and Manica, in the central region, also face a severe reduction in the first harvest. On the positive side, crop prospects remain good for the fertile northern region, despite the January storms that caused some infrastructure and crop damage. However, while this northern production may improve the national food balance, production in the north normally does little to lessen shortages in the south due to transport constraints.
The staple maize crop has been most affected throughout the southern region. Even in some normally productive lowland areas, maize is performing very poorly due to a lack of rainfall and soil moisture. For maize it is too late for further rainfall to improve the yield, as most of the maize crop has reached the maturation phase.
The crop loss was a result of a 30 day dry-spell during the critical stage of crop development. In southern districts the maize harvest is expected to drop by between 50 per cent and 90 per cent. Some other crops such as groundnuts, cassava and beans are surviving, but high temperatures and the intensifying drought are threatening them. In a few districts, such as Buzi and Chibabava, in Sofala, and Mandlakazi and Chibuto in Gaza, additional rainfall this month could lead to a slight improvement in the overall situation.
The irrigation schemes along the Limpopo are at risk of drying up as the river level is very low and discharges from the Massingir dam are minimal. The report warns that, if there is no additional rainfall in the areas of South Africa feeding the Elefantes, the main tributary of the Limpopo, water will become scarce for the irrigation scheme at Chokwe.
The report calls for seeds to be distributed for planting in the second season, which will mainly be vegetables. However, it notes that even a successful second season would not have a major impact on food availability because of the quantity and types of crops produced.
It warns that there is a large gap between food aid needs and the planned response. The World Food Programme (WFP) had planned to get food aid to 440,000 people in January. However, problems with food aid supplies from donors, milling requirements, and a lack of NGO partners to carry out distribution, left it only able to help 283,202 people. This is just 43 percent of the 654,865 people estimated to be in need of food aid.
Predictions for the near future are even more worrying. The current projections are that, in the commercial year that begins in April 2003, the number of people in need of food aid will rise to 1.475 million.
Despite the gloomy prospects, the report found that maize prices in Maputo are stable, even though prices normally rise at this time of year before the harvest. According to the Agricultural Markets Information System (SIMA), the markets in Maputo are fully supplied with maize from Nhamatanda and Gorongosa in Sofala. Nhamatanda is also a major supplier of white maize for markets in Beira.
SIMA also reports that yellow maize is available in small quantities in Maputo, which helps some people as it is sold at 60 per cent of the price of white maize.
FEWS NET bases its analysis on field assessments and a detailed analyses of satellite data. FEWS NET worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC), and carried out a crop assessment between 20 to 30 January. The assessment covered 17 districts in Sofala, Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo provinces.
The Agriculture Ministry intends to acquire 10,000 foot-operated pumps for low-cost irrigation, as part of the government's efforts to minimise the effects of the drought.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Joao Carrilho, speaking at a meeting on 13 February held to discuss the emergency situation with the country's cooperation partners, said that the Ministry has already taken steps to acquire these pumps. But Carrilho admitted that any irrigation scheme, no matter how low-cost, depends on the existence of water.
Nonetheless the Ministry believes that making small irrigation schemes operational could be a key component in mitigating the effects of the current drought, and keeping the spectre of hunger at bay.
Carrilho pointed out that currently only one per cent of Mozambique's arable land is irrigated, which showed how poor the country is in terms of its agricultural infrastructure. Improving irrigation infrastructures could, he believed, prove a key component in overcoming many of the country's food security problems.
Ten minor parties on 14 February launched a new coalition, which they vow will stand in both this year's municipal elections, and in the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2004. The creation of this coalition was precipitated by last year's decision by the main opposition party, Renamo, that it would stand on its own in the forthcoming elections. This effectively killed off the Renamo - Electoral Union (R-UE) coalition that fought the 1999 general elections, although the minor parties say they will remain allied to Renamo in parliament until the end of this legislature.
The new coalition calls itself "Electoral Union" and is composed of eight of the R-UE parties: PCN - National Convention Party; MONAMO - Mozambican Nationalist Movement; UNAMO - Mozambique National Union; FAP - Patriotic Action Front; PRD - Democratic Renewal Party; ALIMO - Independent Alliance of Mozambique; PUN - National Unity Party; and UDF - United Democratic Front.
These eight parties have been joined by two tiny organisations, namely: PAMOMO - Mozambican Party of National Reconciliation and PEMO - Ecological Party of Mozambique.
The chairman of the coalition is PCN President Lutero Simango, widely regarded as one of the most thoughtful figures in the Mozambican opposition. The six positions on the coalition secretariat, and the four on its supervisory board, are divided so that each of the ten parties is represented.
The Electoral Union statutes include among its objectives the establishment of the rule of law, the correct and transparent management of the state's resources and of support from the international community, respect for human rights, and the eradication of illiteracy and of absolute poverty.
When it comes to the economy, the Electoral Union declares its commitment to building "a strong economy based on free enterprise and competition". It calls for "an economic policy aimed at national unity, the gradual, sustained and integrated development of the entire country, with a view to job creation, as an important means to improve the living conditions of each citizen".
The coalition promises to fight vigorously against regional imbalances, and to practice a just tax policy.
Renamo welcomed the creation of the Electoral Union, with the head of the Renamo information department, Fernando Mazanga, regarding the formation as "strengthening democracy in the country".
Despite the clear statements by Electoral Union chairperson Lutero Simango that the new coalition would be competing against both Renamo and Frelimo, Mazanga insisted that Renamo is still in contact with other opposition parties in order to "harmonise strategies" for the forthcoming elections.
"This is a continual process, the objective of which is to bring changes to Mozambique", said Mazanga. Contacts between Renamo and the minor parties, in his view, were aimed at ensuring that Mozambique has "a strong opposition politically prepared for the coming challenges".
The construction of a deep water mineral port at Ponta Dobela, in Matutuine district, in the far south of Mozambique, could start within the next 18 months or two years, according to the French company, Bouyges International, one of those interested in bidding for work on the new port.
A delegation from Bouyges visited Maputo to discuss the project, and was received on 6 February by President Joaquim Chissano.
"We are discussing the concession to build, develop and manage the project for the benefit of Mozambique", the Bouyges director who led the delegation, Cristian Gazaignes, told reporters.
He gave no figures on how much it might cost to build the new port, but earlier estimates were that it would require a minimum of $515 million over a six year period. However, Gazaignes said the project would be implemented over 20 years.
President Chissano said that the project is highly attractive and that the idea the French businessmen had shown him includes a tourism area, that would act as a buffer zone between the port and the conservation area in the rest of Matutuine. This district is noted for its high degree of biodiversity, and includes the Maputo Elephant Reserve.
A port at Ponta Dobela would create many new jobs, President Chissano said, and would have "synergies with the entire Maputo Corridor. It would slot in very well with all the projects in the Libombos area. So it will bring a lot of added value to the country. But there are problems of funding that must be solved in order for the project to be successful".
The idea to build a port at or near Ponta Dobela dates back to colonial times: the colonial authorities saw the potential of the area in the 1960s, and drew up viability studies. But after independence, with the apartheid regime boycotting Mozambican ports, all plans to build new ones were shelved.
Only when democracy came to South Africa could the possibility of a new mineral port in the far south of Mozambique be taken seriously again. In July 1999, the Mozambican government signed an agreement with the country's publicly owned ports and rail company, CFM, and with Porto Dobela Developments Ltd (a company registered in the Isle of Man) on the principles underlying the building of a new port.
The prediction made then was that Dobela could handle 30 million tonnes of goods (mostly minerals) a year - which is vastly more than all Mozambique's current ports put together handle. However, to be successful the port will have to persuade South African businesses in Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces to use Dobela rather than the South African ports of Durban or Richards Bay.
The huge advantage that the natural harbour at Ponta Dobela has is that, unlike Maputo port, it is not subject to silting, and so needs no dredging. Such a deep water port could accommodate much larger ships than can enter Maputo, and would be a feasible rival to Richards Bay.
The July 1999 agreement envisaged raising the funds within 18 months: but until now there has been little sign of movement.
A fund of about $2.1 million intended to strengthen the role of civil society in environmental management and in improving the quality of life of the Mozambican population was launched in Maputo on 14 February with the financial support of Holland.
The money will finance the activities of the Natural Resources and Environment Management Fund (FGRNA) over three years.
Speaking at the launching of the fund, Dutch ambassador Lidi Remmelzwaal said her country had financed this project in recognition that, although Mozambique is a poor country, it possesses a great wealth of natural resources that could be used to combat absolute poverty.
For her part, the Mozambique coordinator of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Isilda Nhantumbo, told the meeting that the country is facing severe degradation of its marine, coastal and other eco-systems, and there was no guarantee that the damage done would be repaired.
She added that one of the main areas the new fund must deal with is research into the environmental impact of the major industrial projects being built in the country.
"We are aware that these projects bring benefits to the country", Nhantumbo said, "but it is also important to look into the questions that affect our natural resources". The FGRNA is essentially a mechanism for financing initiatives that promote local awareness in environmental projects, awareness campaigns, capacity building programmes and applied research.
The 30 workers of the Sofala Provincial Rural Water Workshop (EPAR) in central Mozambique have not received their wages for over eight months. EPAR is a state company responsible for drilling and maintaining rural water sources.
An EPAR worker told AIM in Beira that the climate in the company is one of "total despair", and that there is no sign of any solution in the near future. He said that the EPAR management hardly ever sets foot in the company, which leads to further demoralisation among the work force. AIM's source said that the Sofala provincial government has been informed of the crisis, but so far has taken no measures.
AIM's attempts to contact the EPAR director were fruitless, since he was allegedly absent from Beira. However, the Provincial Director of Public Works, Cristovao Forquia, confirmed to AIM that the Sofala EPAR is indeed in serious difficulties. He blamed the EPAR management for the crisis, and said that his directorate has done what it could to help the company out of its problems. He said that, under the programme of extending the network of rural water sources in the province, his directorate has given work to EPAR without going through public tenders. Nonetheless the problems persist. Forquia described the EPAR management as "obsolete", and argued that changes in management personnel were now urgent.
He said that a step in this direction has been taken with the appointment of a new director for EPAR, and he hoped that this would lead to better days in the company.
The brigade in charge of rehabilitating the sabotaged Sena railway line in central Mozambique says that it will take 18 months to complete the work on the first stretch, between Dondo, some 30 kilometres north of Beira, and Muanza, a distance of about 90 kilometres.
A source in the brigade, which is made up of staff of the central branch of the publicly owned Mozambican railway company (CFM-Centro) says that the work started in January, following the verification of clearance of land mines on that stretch, undertaken by the American demining company RONCO. The verification work was completed in November 2002.
The brigade has started clearing the area for laying new tracks, and identifying 37 sites where small bridges are needed. The work will also involve the use of 132,000 concrete sleepers. These are produced by a Dondo company, at the rate of 1,200 a day.
The Sena Line is 492 kilometres long, running from the port of Beira to Vila Nova, on the border with Malawi.
After the line is rebuilt, the Mozambican government is planning to award management of the railway, for a period of 40 years, to the winner of an international tender launched late last year. Preliminary estimates place the cost of rebuilding the entire line, sabotaged by the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels during the war of destabilisation, at about $300 million.
David Simango, governor of the northern province of Niassa, has announced that the government is to evacuate to their home areas about 1,000 people who were deported from other parts of the country to Niassa in 1983.
In that year, in one of the worst violations of human rights in post-independence Mozambique, the government decided that it could solve the problem of urban unemployment by forcibly removing from the cities all those described as "unproductive".
In what was called "Operation Production", thousands of people were uprooted from their homes, and flown to Niassa where, it was fondly imagined, they would help produce food for the country. No-one has ever published the figures for this bungled operation - how many people were taken to Niassa, and how much it all cost.
Many of the victims of Operation Production eventually escaped and made their own way back home. Others died in the attempt, or were press-ganged by the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels. But when President Joaquim Chissano visited the province in 2001, he found survivors of Operation Production in Mavago district asking for government support so that they could return home.
But only now, some two years later, is the government providing the money to send these people home, at a cost of 2.5 billion meticais ($105,000).
Simango, cited in "Diario de Mocambique", stressed it was not compulsory for people deported to Niassa under Operation Production to return to their original homes. Those who had established new families in Niassa and wanted to stay were welcome to do so.
Simango feared that there could be problems in the provinces receiving the returnees: he thought that some might go back to Maputo, for example, and be unable to find their relatives.
Asked if the government would find houses for these people when they returned, Simango said that, since they were leaving Niassa of their own free will, they should ensure their own accommodation. The government's contribution would be "as small as possible".
President Joaquim Chissano on 10 February committed the Mozambican state to making the work of the country's greatest poet, Jose Craveirinha, "a permanent source of inspiration for future generations". President Chissano was speaking at the funeral of Craveirinha, who died on 6 February at the age of 80.
"It is our patriotic duty and a historical imperative to continue along the path beaten by Craveirinha in promoting our culture in all its multiple dimensions, in the construction of the Mozambican nation", declared President Chissano.
He believed that the history of Mozambican arts, letters and politics of the past three quarters of a century "can only be complete if they include in a very prominent position the invaluable contribution of Craveirinha. Mozambican history records with great pride and in letters of gold his extraordinary achievements".
For Craveirinha did not merely write verse: he was also a journalist, and a political figure, jailed by the Portuguese secret police, the PIDE, in the 1960s for his clandestine membership of the national liberation movement, Frelimo.
"From Craveirinha we learnt that words can hit the enemy as surely and as deeply as the guns with which we defeated the Portuguese colonial army", said President Chissano. "The writings of Craveirinha were a true front in the combat against colonialism".
Through his literary work, the poet had demonstrated "the rejection of colonial rule and exploitation and other social injustices. He awoke previously dormant consciences, and galvanised the permanent struggle in search of the well-being of the Mozambican people, before and after the proclamation of Mozambican independence".
President Chissano argued that Craveirinha's work had relevance beyond Mozambique's borders. His work was "universal in dimension, because his poetry of combat, love and suffering transcended national frontiers, and became a cry for the freedom of all peace-loving peoples".
Craveirinha's coffin was carried to Maputo's monument to the Mozambican Heroes, where Craveirinha was buried, alongside such figures as the founder of Frelimo, Eduardo Mondlane, and the country's first president, Samora Machel. Craveirinha is the first person to be buried in the austere, star-shaped monument of pure white marble, who was not a member of the military wing of the liberation movement.
At the solemn ceremony Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo was present: it was the first time Dhlakama had ever attended a ceremony at the Heroes' Monument.
The Standing Commission of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, has told parliamentary chairperson Eduardo Mulembue to take "administrative measures" to ensure that deputies from the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition pay for the damage they did to Assembly equipment in December.
In the closing sitting of the Assembly in 2002, Renamo attempted to expel from parliament five dissidents, who had reigned or been expelled from the party. But nothing in the Assembly's standing orders compels deputies to give up their seats merely because they have fallen out with their political party.
The matter was put to the vote and Renamo lost. Instead of accepting defeat, the Renamo deputies rioted in the Assembly chamber for four consecutive days, chanting, dancing and blowing on whistles in a partially successful attempt to sabotage the Assembly's business.
Much worse, they severely damaged the Assembly's sound system, and with their constant banging on the tables, they ruined some of the furniture. The Assembly's secretariat has assessed the damage at $11,000, which should be paid for by the Renamo demonstrators.
The Assembly's standing orders give Mulembue the power to deal with "anomalous situations", and so the Standing Commission encouraged him to take measures to force Renamo to pay.
Not all opposition deputies took part in the rioting. But these disgraceful moments were filmed, and from this footage it will be possible to identify all those who were responsible for damaging Assembly property. The easiest way of forcing them to pay will be to deduct the money from their monthly wages.
The next sitting of the Assembly begins, on 3 March and threatens to be stormy. The Standing Commission has placed on the agenda once again the final report of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the riots of 9 November 2000, in which 39 people died. This report should have been discussed in April 2002 - but, since it blames Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama for the clashes, Renamo refused to discuss it, and preferred to yell, scream and bang on the tables. The ruling Frelimo Party backed down then, but promised that the report would return to the floor of the Assembly sooner or later.
Other matters on the agenda include important laws which, because of the Renamo antics, were not debated last year. This includes a new Family Law, which protects the rights of women and children, an anti-corruption bill, a bill introducing the concept of class action into Mozambican law, and a bill changing the legislation governing political parties.
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