Deficient brakes were among the causes of Mozambique's worst ever rail disaster, according to a report in the latest issue of the Sunday paper "Domingo". On 25 May, 193 people lost their lives when crowded passenger carriages slammed into goods wagons full of cement at Tenga, on the Maputo-South Africa railway. An official inquiry into the disaster is still under way.
But "Domingo" claims that most carriages belonging to the port and rail company, CFM, have defective brakes. This forces railway workers to improvise, by putting rocks or lumps of wood under wheels to stop carriages rolling away.
The carriages that ran out of control on 25 May were on an incline that runs past Tenga all the way to Matola. The paper claims that a similar incident happened recently when a locomotive that suffered a breakdown also rolled down this incline, and did not stop for 10 kilometres, until it reached Matola-Gare.
From interviewing survivors, "Domingo" established that when the train left Ressano Garcia, on the border with South Africa, the locomotive was at the front, the passenger carriages at the rear, and the cement wagons in the middle.
Normally goods wagons are at the rear of mixed trains, but this time the order was changed, apparently because the crew feared attempts to steal sacks of cement during the slow night journey.
As the train moved towards Maputo, the presence of suspicious individuals was noted along the track, apparently attracted by the prospect of stealing cement, but this was made difficult by the way the train was arranged.
At several stops during the journey, members of the crew entered the passenger carriages and asked who was trying to interfere with the air compressors. There was no reply.
This seems to have been why, at Bulhine, five kilometres outside Tenga, the crew decided to reorganise the train. The passenger carriages were decoupled, while the locomotive took the cement wagons into Tenga station. Rocks were placed under the wheels to hold the carriages.
One questions raised is: were these stones then removed, in an act of deliberate sabotage ? The story is circulating that three youths removed the stones - but none of those to whom "Domingo" spoke had actually seen these people.
The rearrangement of the train should have been fairly quick and simple - but at Tenga the crew received instructions to go and help a goods train that was in difficulty in the opposite direction. It had to push the stranded goods train into Matola-Gare station. While the locomotive was absent, the disaster occurred.
"Domingo" also notes that the drastic cuts in CFM's staff, carried out in the name of efficiency and to the applause of the World Bank, is leaving stations such as Tenga undermanned. The paper says that Tenga ought to have 12 staff working three shifts, but in fact Tenga just has four staff, including the station master (who lives in Maputo and does not work at night). So a shift that should have four people, in fact has one. To make matters worse, the Tenga staff decided among themselves to work 24 hour shifts, followed by 48 hours off, which certainly does nothing to improve safety at the station. The only purpose for such a shift regime would be to allow the workers to take other jobs, in the informal economy, to augment their low wages.
"Domingo" also points out that, contrary to popular belief, it is not the driver of the train who is responsible for its safety. The standard crew of a CFM train consists of a driver, a driver's mate and a guard. It is the guard who is mainly responsible for safety matters: it is he, for instance, who gives the signal for when it is safe to leave a station.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi said on 30 May that compensation should be paid to the families of the victims of the rail disaster, "in accordance with the country's legislation".
The publicly-owned rail company, CFM, has paid funeral expenses, and has promised assistance for the families of the victims, including paying for the education of any children orphaned by the disaster. But it has not made any clear statement about financial compensation.
A law of 1966 implies that the company should pay compensation: although the law dates from the colonial period, it is still in force.
Speaking at a Maputo press briefing, Prime Minister Mocumbi said that passengers "have a contract with the transport operator. they expect a service, and when it is not provided, they should be compensated".
Should the inquiry into the crash reveal that individuals or the company were to blame, then they should be held responsible, said Mocumbi.
Asked about the progress of the inquiry, Mocumbi said that CFM's own technical investigation should be complete by next week.
A second inquiry, headed by the Attorney-General's Office, was also under way. "As a state, we have to make a full study of the case to see if there was any disrespect for the laws and regulations governing the rail system", said the Prime Minister. "We must also see whether those regulations are up to date".
The government, he added, must ask "what can be done to ensure that when people enter a means of transport, they reach their destination safely".
President Joaquim Chissano on 27 May declared that, following the worst rail disaster in the country's history, the feelings of all Mozambicans are ones of sorrow and of solidarity with the victims.
He was speaking at a religious ceremony at the Maputo city morgue immediately prior to the funerals of 29 people who died in the disaster.
"The greatest consolation we find is that we have seen a really massive movement of solidarity", said President Chissano. "Anyone who has listened to the radio will have heard of the multiple initiatives to support the families of the victims. I am speaking not of material support, but of moral support, giving them comfort".
Many of the victims, particularly the women, had been informal traders. "We know they had been making purchases in order to resell the goods, and keep trade in our city or elsewhere going", said President Chissano. "This is something that our government values. It's a way in which the least well-off participate in the economy and contribute to development".
"Justice must be done", declared President Chissano, and in this area the prime responsibility fell on the shoulders of CFM "which will have to redouble its efforts so that nothing similar ever happens again".
He stressed the need for safety and discipline. "We who travel on the country's trains, buses and cars must learn to be disciplined in order to minimise future losses", Chissano urged.
Around 515,000 people in 43 southern and central Mozambican districts will need food aid before the first harvests of 2003 (April), according to the latest estimates by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). Total food aid requirements, arising from the drought that has hit the centre and south of the country, are put at 70,000 tonnes.
The data from an FAO/WFP assessment mission, made public in Maputo on 4 June, state that this month about 155,000 people need food aid. In the coming months, this figure will rise, as household food reserves run out, and will hit a peak of 515,000 people.
The FAO/WFP team worked between 22 April and 8 May in the central provinces of Zambezia, Tete, Manica and Sofala, and also in Maputo province in the south. It is also known that Gaza and Inhambane provinces are drought-stricken, and an earlier mission looked at the situation there.
Despite the drought, agricultural production is set to grow five percent this year, thanks largely to the fertile northern provinces. The most important food crop is maize, production of which is forecast to grow by eight per cent.
In 2001, the total production of basic food crops was estimated at 1.7 million tonnes, and maize was slightly more than 70 per cent of this, at 1.2 million tonnes, according to Silvano Langa, the director of the country's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC).
Speaking at a meeting with donors, at which the FAO/WFP figures were presented, Langa said the figure of 515,000 people in need of aid was significant because "it shows we're going back to the situation of 2000 when we had about 650,000 people facing hunger". The difference was that then crops had been lost to catastrophic flooding on every river valley south of Beira. This year, Mozambique faces a serious food deficit south of the Zambezi, and in some districts of Zambezia province. But the north of the country is bringing in an excellent harvest. The problem is the expense and sheer physical difficulty of moving surplus crops from the north to the south, given the poor condition of so many access roads.
The markets for the surplus produced in the north are Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, all countries who are much worse hit by the current drought than Mozambique.
Several districts in Zambezia, Tete, and Gaza provinces are facing hunger caused by drought reports "Noticias" on 4 June.
About 39,000 families (about 200,000 people) are in this situation in Zambezia, while 11,000 people are affected in the district of Zumbo, in western Tete, and 89,000 people are under threat in Gaza. In Zambezia, seven districts are affected, namely Inhassunge, Chinde, Nicoadala, Namacurra, Maganja da Costa, Pebane, and Quelimane, the provincial capital.
Of these, Chinde and Inhassunge are said to be in need of an emergency food aid, because of the combined effects of floods in 2001 and the drought this year.
The spokesperson for the Emergency Technical Commission, Rodrigues Joao, said that the Food Security Commission has already allocated 33,500 kits of seeds for the needy families to plant for the second sowing season.
The authorities are also encouraging the production of drought resistant crops, such as sweet potatoes and cassava.
The Zambezia provincial delegate of INGC, Orlando Francisco, said that the programme for the second season planting includes also the distribution of vegetable seeds by the NGOs Caritas and World Vision.
In the Gaza district of Manjacaze, it is feared that more than 89,000 people may face hunger as from next month, as a consequence of the poor harvest.
To illustrate the seriousness of the situation, Damiao Mabunda, the district administrator, said that local peasants harvested 87,551 tonnes of assorted crops in the 2001 harvest, compared with only 718 tonnes in the present campaign.
He said that the authorities' efforts to counter the effects of drought, are rendered of little use because of the poor state of the irrigation systems.
The authorities are finding it difficult to assist in the building or rehabilitation of these systems for lack of means to carry out a Food for Work programme.
99 cases of malnutrition were reported in Manjacaze, of which 29 are said to have resulted in death, during the first three months of this year.
For his part, the administrator of Zumbo district, in Tete, Herculano Conde, reports that in low lying areas, where production should be expected to be at its best, the soils were spoiled by the floods of 2001. He put the number of people at risk at 11,110.
Mozambique's ruling Frelimo Party will undergo "profound changes", should the proposals from the current session of the Central Committee be adopted by the Party's eighth congress later this month, Central Committee spokesman Bernardo Cherinda told reporters on 2 June.
The debates inside the Central Committee "are heated, as were the discussions of the Congress theses which have influenced the proposals that are being presented", he said. (The theses were discussed throughout the country over the past few months, at the same time as Frelimo organisations, from the branches up to the provincial committees, elected new secretariats and Congress delegates.) But Cherinda gave few details of forthcoming "profound changes". He said the way that Frelimo operates would have to be altered to bring it more into line with the multiparty regime now firmly rooted in Mozambique.
Cherinda admitted that the Central Committee might discuss the question of who would succeed Joaquim Chissano as Party president, although the matter is not on the agenda of this meeting. Chissano has repeatedly declared that he does not wish to stand for another term of office as head of state, and so will not be the Frelimo candidate in the 2004 presidential elections. Since independence, the President of the Republic and the President of Frelimo have always been the same person, but there is nothing compulsory about this arrangement.
"The question of the succession is not on the agenda", said Cherinda. "But if Central Committee members broach the issue, it will probably be discussed".
The Central Committee had already discussed the profile that any successor to Chissano should have, he said. "What is missing is the mention of any names, and when these should be made public knowledge", he added.
During the Central Committee meeting, President Chissano declared that a further 300,000 people have joined Frelimo since its Seventh Congress, held in 1997.
"Frelimo's capacity to mobilise and enrol new members in its ranks bears witness to the strength and vitality of the party", said Chissano. "The Party has been growing at a pace that can only be explained by the clarity of its programme, and by the way in which it has headed the destinies of the country as the party in power".
"Our task is to go on working so that the trust we enjoy among the Mozambican people continues to make our Party grow in quantity and in quality", he added.
Chissano did not put a number on the current Frelimo membership, but it is believed to be well in excess of a million.
The President called for a modernisation of Frelimo's working methods "so that the evolution and technological progress under way in the world does not push us to the margins. We are, and we want to continue to be, active agents in the global processes of change".
The indispensable conditions for this were "our capacity for work and our dedication to raising the living standards of our people".
The major challenge facing the party, continued Chissano, was the battle against absolute poverty - and one of the main obstacles in this battle was the AIDS epidemic "which is cutting down young men and women, depriving us of their contribution".
"We must use every means at our disposal to educate our people about preventing and fighting against HIV/AIDS", he urged.
The European Union has disbursed six million euros (about $5.5 million) intended for the relaunching of production and marketing of cashew nuts in Mozambique, which is expected to reach in the next three years the ambitious target of 100,000 tonnes of raw nuts, a source in the National Cashew Institute (INCAJU) told AIM on 28 May.
The grant will be used in the northern provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula, and Gaza in the south.
The project is part of efforts to develop and assess technologies geared towards a sustainable increase in production and quality of cashew nuts. Various tests are being currently implemented aimed at improving knowledge on how to combat cashew pests and diseases, and providing better cost/benefit treatment options that will improve the revenue of the producers.
INCAJU is also working on selecting varieties of cashew trees resistant to pests and fungal diseases.
By March 2002, some 41,000 tonnes of raw nuts had been marketed with Nampula contributing 78 per cent of this total. Cabo Delgado produced eight per cent of the nuts, the central province of Zambezia seven per cent, while Gaza contributed with six per cent. Bringing up the rear was Inhambane province with only two per cent.
But 41,000 tonnes is a poor harvest - it is only 76 per cent of the previous year's figure, and comes nowhere near meeting the target of 60,050 tonnes for this season. Now that harvesting is virtually over, there is no hope that any of the provinces will meet their target.
INAJU blames for the slump in production factors such as inadequate rainfall and uncontrolled bushfires.
The prices paid to producers increased during the campaign from an initial 3,200 meticais to 7,000 meticais per kilo of raw nuts - the average price was 5,100 meticais a kilo, as against an average price of 3,950 meticais a kilo in the previous year. However, in real terms, once the sharp devaluation of the metical in 2001 is taken into account, prices have fallen, and the international price of cashew nuts has crashed: currently a tonne of raw nuts fetches $280 on the world market - the lowest price ever - as opposed to the $575 in January.
Only about 5,000 tonnes of nuts were sold to the few Mozambican processing factories that are still open. Most of the factories were driven out of business in the late 1990s by the World Bank-imposed liberalisation of the trade in cashews. Now the price of Mozambican raw nuts is dictated by the Indian importers.
The Mozambican government on 25 May signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), under which these UN agencies will support for three years a project for decentralised planning and finance in the northern provinces of Nampula and Cabo Delgado.
The project, budgeted at $14.3 million, is co- financed by the UN agencies, Holland, Norway and the Mozambican government itself.
In the short term, the project intends to increase access by rural communities to basic public infrastructures and services through decentralisation, participatory planning, and institutional and financial capacity building carried out locally.
The Mozambican government on 31 May held an investors' conference in Maputo to attract companies interested in the projected new hydro-electric dam at Mepanda Uncua, on the Zambezi, in the western province of Tete. The estimated cost of building Mepanda Uncua, 70 kilometres downstream from the existing dam at Cahora Bassa, is two billion US dollars.
If there is a favourable response from investors, construction of the dam could begin in 2004. The viability study presented to the conference indicates that the dam is economically viable, and that it will not have a damaging impact on the environment.
Opening the conference, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Castigo Langa, told potential investors and financing agencies that the government "is willing to grant appropriate incentives, that will ensure that the project is financially robust, and that there are benefits for everyone involved". It would, in short, be a "win-win situation".
In addition to the dam, the Mepanda Uncua project envisages two electricity transmission lines running to Maputo via Beira, a distance of some 1,600 kilometres. This gives the project a strategic character, in that it will make possible the interlinking of the three main electricity systems in the country - the centre-north line (from Cahora Bassa), the central system (from the Revue dam), and the southern system (from Cahora Bassa via South Africa).
Nazario Meguigy, Director of the government's Hydroelectric Projects Technical Unit (UTIP), told AIM that the project will have a multiplier effect in the Mepanda Uncua region, and will provide better living conditions for the local people who will benefit from the employment brought by the dam, from electrical power that will be installed in the area for the first time, and from new schools and hospitals.
Meguigy also argues that Mepanda Uncua will help control the level of water in the Zambezi, avoiding catastrophic floods. Should the Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams be forced to open their floodgates at the same time, the rush of water downstream could be halted at Mepanda Uncua.
Although Mozambique has the potential to produce 12,000 megawatts of hydropower, has proven natural gas reserves of around 4.5 trillion cubic feet, and deposits of billions of tonnes of high quality coal, the harsh reality is that most of the population still relies on wood fuel.
Over 80 per cent of the Mozambican population draw their energy from firewood and charcoal, with a damaging impact on the country's forests. There are around 3.7 million households in Mozambique - and only 200,000 of these are linked to the electricity grid.
The United States has cancelled Mozambique's bilateral debt amounting to some $57.5 million. The two governments on 28 May signed an agreement formalising this debt relief under the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) initiative. The cancellation of 100 per cent of the bilateral debt meets recommendations from the Club of Paris last November.
Donors have pledged only $33 million of the $40 million that the Agriculture Ministry had requested for implementation of the National Agricultural Development Programme (PROAGRI) in 2003.
PROAGRI is a five year programme with a total budget of $200 million. The latest regular review meeting ended on 24 May. According to a document presented at the meeting, donors say that the remaining seven million dollars may be granted later, after "some consultations".
The Agricultural ministry says that 60 percent of funds are earmarked for use in the provinces, while the rest will go into the ministry's central bodies.
Speaking to AIM, the ministry's national economics director, Frederico Sitoe, explained that the budget also takes into account specific situations related to natural disasters, for which just one million dollars has been reserved.
The meeting concluded that over the past year there were significant improvements in the ministry's performance in several areas, particularly in institutional reform and financial management, concerning decentralisation, and in the land tenure component. But both the government and its partners acknowledge the need for further work if PROAGRI is to attain its goals - particularly to ensure that improved output from agriculture becomes a major factor in the fight against poverty.
The participants to the meeting noted that there are still problems in the customs services when it comes to goods imported for PROAGRI, and also in the process of rehabilitating infrastructures.
Rescue teams have saved six of the 24 crew members of the South Korean fishing vessel, the "Beira-5", which sank off the coast of the southern province of Gaza on 2 June.
Atanasio Francisco, the national director of Mozambique's Maritime Administration and Inspection body, SAFMAR, told AIM on 4 June that the six men rescued are two Indonesians, a Mozambican, a Russian, a Chinese, and a South Korean.
A SAFMAR boat took the six to Maputo, and they are currently under medical observation in Maputo Central Hospital. Francisco said that all are now out of danger.
Another rescue vessel has been sent to Gaza to join the search for the other 18 missing crew members.
The "Beira-5" was on hire to a private fishing company, the Companhia Pesqueira de Zambeze. Its full crew consisted of six Mozambicans, four South Koreans, seven Chinese, six Indonesians and a Russian.
Francisco said it is still too early to say why the ship sank. But he promised that, as soon as the rescue operations are over, a commission of inquiry will be set up to look into the matter.
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