The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that a critical window is closing fast for 12 million people across southern Africa who are in need of urgent help from the international community. Six countries in southern Africa have been hit by severe drought. Complicated by the impact of the AIDS epidemic, this has slashed harvests. With these countries now entering the hungry season until the next harvest can be brought in (in March/April), time is running out to get food aid to those most in need.
Speaking on 13 October from the worst hit country, Malawi, where five million people are facing food shortages, WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu said "it is deplorable that enough donations only come in when images of emaciated African children starving in large numbers start appearing on television screens around the world".
"Hunger doesn't have to be inevitable in Africa but once food needs start to peak, it will be too late for many of the weakest, especially children, and the cost of saving lives will escalate significantly", she added.
The basic problem for WFP is that it lacks the funds needed. For Malawi it still needs $76 million to feed up to 2.9 million people until the harvest in April. For the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region as a whole, WFP needs $185 million to feed 9.2 million people in Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
WFP is watching a disaster unfold before its eyes in the knowledge that it is almost too late to change course. According to WFP it can take up to six months for donor pledges to be transformed into food aid on the ground in southern Africa.
WFP has also hinted that some donors are less than honourable in their support for the appeal, with Dr Sisulu urging all donors to honour pledges made in the last few months.
In response to this time delay, WFP is calling for cash donations so that it can buy food within the region and pre-place supplies before the rainy season makes some places unreachable.
As for the Mozambican requirements, WFP says it urgently needs $19 million to meet the food needs of 580,000 people between November and March.
Currently WFP is only feeding about 130,000 Mozambicans. WFP will increase the number of people that it is feeding to 257,000 in November, but that is only a little more than half those in need.
Large donations have been pledged, which should ease the food crisis. Speaking on 5 October, Silvano Langa, the director of Mozambique's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), said that the Foreign Ministry has been contacting donors, and that Holland has promised $10 million for food, and Britain $500,000 for seeds.
INGC and WFP deny hunger deaths
There are conflicting reports as to whether people in Mozambique have begun to die because of hunger. A team consisting of officials from Mozambique's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and the Health and Agriculture Ministries, has described reports of deaths from hunger in the southern province of Gaza as "a false alarm", according to the Maputo daily "Noticias" on 12 October.
The mission went to Gaza to investigate claims that 34 people in the administrative post of Alto Changane had died from hunger, but they found nothing of the sort.
Gumercindo Langa, who was heading the INGC team, said the team could find no evidence of hunger-related deaths, after many days of investigation in all the affected places.
The chief doctor of the Chibuto Rural Hospital, Jorge Sixpence, explained that there were some deaths, of course, but related to malaria, respiratory diseases and diarrhoea, with nothing that could be directly attributed to malnutrition.
Sixpence admitted that there is a serious situation of hunger, induced by drought, in Alto Changane, and elsewhere in Chibuto district, "but the claim that people have died of hunger is false". That there is hunger in the district is unquestionable, said Sixpence, "but this is an issue that is affecting the entire country and the Southern African region in general. We have not yet reached the point of talking of deaths from this disaster".
Langa told reporters that the drought in Gaza is very serious, affecting about 123,000 people, particularly in the districts of Chibuto and Manjacaze. The problem is worsened by the poor state of access roads in most Gaza districts, which makes it difficult to channel assistance to those in need.
The Manjacaze and Chibuto district administrators, Roque Silva and Zacarias Soto, expressed serious concern over the drought, noting that "if the situation remains unchanged for much longer we may, unfortunately, have to report cases of serious malnutrition, and even deaths. We need food aid for the more critical areas and agricultural inputs for the areas where there are some conditions for irrigation".
In their meetings with local residents, the INGC/WFP team was told that peasant farmers need seeds, hoes and other hand tools, if they are to take advantage of this year's rainy season, and bring in a harvest in next March/April.
President Armando Guebuza on 12 October stressed the responsibility of teachers, and of society at large, for turning the country's schools into centres that make future generations aware that the country's natural resources are indispensable for producing the wealth required for victory over poverty.
Speaking to leaders of the National Teachers' Union (ONP), on the occasion of Teacher's Day, President Guebuza said "I encourage teachers to continue to work, and to believe that what they do is in order to help the country emerge from its current poverty".
He urged Mozambicans to believe that it is possible to defeat poverty, just as it was possible to defeat colonialism and achieve independence in 1975, and just as it was possible to win peace in 1992. "In the recent past, there were people who did not believe the country would be free of colonialism in their lifetime. There were those who did not believe they would see the country free of war", he said. "But, thanks to the selfless work of Mozambicans, it was possible to achieve these goals".
Yet there were Mozambicans today, he added, who did not think it possible to overcome the scourge of poverty. He recalled the sad reality he had found on his recent visit to the central province of Sofala. There he had found that people were still setting fire to the bush (for agricultural or hunting purposes), devastating the fauna and flora, on which their own survival eventually depends. "We must bring children to understand how, for example, uncontrolled bush fires devastate vast areas of the country", President Guebuza said. "In 10, or 15 years those children will be adults, and they need to know what should be preserved for the good of the country's development".
If today's children learnt the important of protecting nature, then in 20 years the country will not face the sort of environmental problems it has to deal with now, he added.
President Guebuza said he was aware of the difficulties teachers face, and was "somewhat comforted" by their awareness of the government's efforts to solve them. "We all know what are the causes of the difficulties. The resources that the country has must be distributed to all Mozambican households, through education, health and other services. The resources are scarce but they can be multiplied", he said.
Poverty will not be eliminated while women suffer discrimination, warned the representative in Mozambique of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), Petra Lantz, on 12 October. She was speaking at the Maputo launch of the UNFPA's 2005 "State of the World Population" report, which concentrates on gender equity, reproductive health and their relation to the Millennium Development Goals, agreed by the UN General Assembly in 2000.
There would be no end to poverty, warned Lantz, "while women do not enjoy their social, educational, economic and political rights".
"Poverty will not be eliminated before we do away with violence against women and girls", she added. "Poverty will not be eliminated without active participation of women in development, in the productive sectors of the economy, and in taking decisions that affect their lives".
She warned that "inequality is economically inefficient, a violation of human rights and a danger to health".
Attaining the Millennium Development Goals requires "healthy men and women working together as equals. We have to unleash the force of half of humanity to contribute to economic growth. Progress for women is progress for all."
Particularly unacceptable was the neglect of women's reproductive health. Lantz pointed out that "every year over half a million women and girls die of complications related to pregnancy. The tragedy is that these deaths could have been avoided". But this was also a question of poverty, for "in no other area of health do we find such huge disparities between rich and poor, with such wide-ranging, tragic and immoral consequences".
Lantz noted that the Mozambican government's Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA) is currently being redrafted, and there is thus an opportunity "to integrate gender equity completely into PARPA. Through increased allocation of resources to actions and programmes to promote gender equity, the Mozambican leaders have the chance to speed up poverty reduction".
She said there had already been significant advances - such as the fact that 35.6 per cent of the members of the Mozambican parliament are women - one of the highest percentages in the world.
The percentage of girls attending primary school had increased - but there were still more boys than girls at school, and the illiteracy rate was much worse among women (69 per cent to 37 per cent, according to estimates from 2003).
Lantz warned that some Mozambican cultural practices "such as early marriage and pregnancy also endanger the lives of girls and reduce the chances of them enjoying a long, healthy and productive life".
On a global scale, she said, increasing investment in women and girls, in their education, their health and their economic opportunities "will lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty, save the lives of 30 million children and two million mothers, and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, all in the coming decade".
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has granted $3.9 million to the Confederation of Mozambican Business Associations to be used over the next three years in improving the business environment.
The agreement to this effect was signed in Maputo on 13 October by the chairperson of the CTA, Salimo Abdula, and by the USAID director for Mozambique, Jay Knott.
Under the agreement, the CTA promises to increase the level of involvement of civil society in the public debate over issues that affect the business environment in the country.
The CTA also undertakes to increase the number of people covered by the formal labour market, to improve Mozambique's ranking in indices such as those published by the World Economic Forum and by the World Bank, to increase exports from labour intensive sectors of the economy, and to improve access to land and to credit. (Some of these actions clearly depend on cooperation with the government.)
This agreement is the continuation of support that USAID has been giving to the CTA since 1997.
The Mozambican government's Water Supply Investment and Assets Fund (FIPAG) on 6 October signed contracts with two Chinese companies to expand water supply in the southern cities of Xai-Xai, Chokwe, Inhambane and Maxixe.
The tender for the work in Xai-Xai and Chokwe was launched in December 2004. 10 companies or consortia put in bids, with the contract won by China Geo Engineering Corporation.
As for Inhambane and Maxixe, this tender was launched in January, and eight companies bid for the work. The contract was awarded to China Henan International.
The contract for inspecting the work in all four cities was won by the Zimbabwean company Lamont.
The Mozambican government is paying for ten per cent of the work - the rest comes from the African Development Bank (ADB). According to ADB regional director Alex Rugama, the ADB is contributing with a loan of $28 million to finance the expansion, and a grant of $3.5 million for "institutional support".
The water network in all four cities is obsolete. Small diameter pipes are used in Maxixe, Inhambane and Chokwe, leading to low water pressure, while FIPAG describes the Xai-Xai as "in a very poor state with huge losses of water".
The work in the four cities should lead to new reservoirs, new tubing, thousands of new connections and replacement of old ones, and the construction of dozens of new standpipes.
When the work is over, the distribution of water in all four cities will be 24 hours a day (whereas in Xai-Xai, for example, at the moment water is only pumped for nine hours a day).
The number of people served by the piped water system (in their homes and from standpipes) will rise from 57 per cent to 84 per cent of Inhambane's population of about 43,000.
In Maxixe, coverage should rise from a mere 8 per cent to 42 per cent of a population that is slightly more than 50,000.
As for Chokwe, with a total population of around 58,000, the numbers served by the water supply system will rise from 55 to 70 per cent.
In the largest of the four cities, Xai-Xai, only 40 per cent of the population of 117,000 are supplied from the existing system. After the expansion that proportion should more than double, to 81 per cent.
In all, when the work is completed, in 2007, an extra 80,000 people should be drinking safe water from the public network.
Public Works Minister Felicio Zacarias told the signing ceremony that expanding water supply to these cities as part of the government's drive "to achieve the Millennium Development Goals to the benefit of the social and economic well-being of the public".
A key factor in fighting poverty, he told reporters, was "to provide the population with good quality water".
Mozambique's publicly owned airport company, ADM, intends to invest $60 million over the next five years in modernising its infrastructures, including Maputo International airport, by far the largest airport in the country.
Speaking on 5 October at the opening of a meeting analysing the company's activities so far this year, and its plan and budget for 2006, the chairman of the ADM board, Jose Cossa, said that among the other challenges were renovation work on the runways at Vilankulo in the south of the country, Quelimane in the centre, and Pemba and Lichinga in the north.
Cossa added that it is urgent to expand the terminals at Vilankulo and Pemba, which are seeing increased traffic because of their important tourist resorts. Navigation equipment should be replaced at Maputo, Tete and Nampula airports.
The growth of traffic, notably in Vilankulo, Inhambane, Nampula and Pemba called for significant improvements in airport infrastructure now, said Cossa. "We should not wait until the operational situation becomes complicated", he stressed, "but we should do things at the right time, making the investments that are needed to increase the capacity of the airport facilities".
Cossa said that ADM is committed to improving conditions for passengers, and thus contributing to the growth in tourism, and of the economy as a whole.
He also declared that ADM can take pride in the fact that it is no longer dependent on foreign workers in such delicate areas as air traffic control, and maintenance of communications systems.
An ADM press release summarising the past nine months said that the company's business volume had increased by nine per cent when compared with the same period in 2004.
The number of aircraft landing at ADM airports was up by 16 per cent, the number of passengers by 39 per cent, the amount of freight carried by 19 per cent, and overflights by nine per cent.
The company was thus making a profit. In the first nine months of the year, ADM made an operational profit of three billion meticais (about $126,000).
Among the investments made this year were the replacement of fire fighting equipment in Beira and Nampula, and the installation of a VHF (Very High Frequency) system of communications for air traffic control.
The total number of ADM staff fell from 618 in 2004 to 594 now. The company spent 1.4 billion meticais on training activities which benefited 41 of these workers.
The visa waiver agreement between Mozambique and Swaziland, signed in Maputo on 12 August, came into effect on 16 October, according to a note from the Mozambican Foreign Ministry. The date is slightly later than expected. When the agreement was signed, it was hoped that it would take effect on 1 October. This did not happen due to delays in the Swazi ratification procedures.
Now no entry visas will be required for Mozambicans visiting Swaziland, or Swazis visiting Mozambique, as long as they possess a valid passport or equivalent travel document.
A drive is underway to ensure the free movement of people within SADC (Southern African Development Community), a logical consequence of the Community's commitment to regional integration.
Earlier this year Mozambique signed reciprocal visa waiver agreements with South Africa and Botswana. A similar agreement was recently signed with Zambia, which will take effect once ratification procedures are concluded, probably before the end of the year.
Mozambique already had visa waiver arrangements with Malawi and with Mauritius.
Former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano has been appointed an advisor to the United Nations Conference for Trade And Development (UNCTAD).
He confirmed this appointment on 17 October, saying that one of the challenges of this mission is to discuss the new role of UNCTAD, taking into account the current world context in the area of trade and development, and the need for a balanced trading system, accessible to all countries.
Chissano, who led the Mozambican state from November 1986 to February this year, will be part of a team of prominent personalities, whose task is to produce proposals for new strategies to enhance UNCTAD's impact.
This is a seven member team, to be headed by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. All members of the team are widely known for their competence in matters of development, and have accepted the challenge to join this mission.
The team is expected to hold at least four meetings and produce a report to be submitted to UNCTAD director Supachai Panitchpakdi by April.
Before this appointment, Chissano worked as the special envoy for the African region for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to mobilise support for Annan's planned reforms of the world body. He was also UN special envoy to Guinea-Bissau, in the run- up to the recent elections in that West African state.
UNCTAD, based in Geneva, is the UN focal point for integrated trade and other related issues in the area of finance, technology and investments.
The Mozambican and Norwegian governments on 18 October signed an agreement under which Norway will provide about $39 million to support the donor common fund for the health sector (PROSAUDE) in the 2005-2008 period.
The main objective of PROSAUDE is to support the Mozambican government in implementing its National Health Strategy.
The agreement was signed by Foreign Minister Alcinda Abreu and Norwegian ambassador Thorbjorn Gaustadsaether.
Speaking at the ceremony, Abreu said this agreement "will contribute to poverty reduction, since health is a fundamental area for human development and one of the major priorities of the government's five year programme for 2005-2009".
She said that the health sector strategic plan will help improve the quality of the services provided to the public in the country's health units. Large scale training and recycling are among the activities envisaged under the plan.
President Armando Guebuza and his Tanzanian counterpart Benjamin Mkapa on 15 October laid the foundation stone for the "Unity Bridge" over the Rovuma river, which forms the border between the two countries. The building of this undertaking, budgeted at $24 million, fully funded by the governments of both countries, should be completed by 2008.
The two lane bridge is designed to be 720 metres long, 13.8 metres wide, with a height of between 7.5 and 10 metres. The plans include building five kilometre long access roads on either side of the river.
The idea of building the "unity bridge" dates back to shortly after Mozambican independence. It was a dream cherished by the founding presidents of the two countries, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
The project lay dormant for three decades, partly because of the war of destabilisation in Mozambique, and partly because no donor was interested in funding such a bridge.
So the two governments eventually decided they would press ahead on their own. An agreement of principle was signed by Mkapa, and by President Guebuza's predecessor, Joaquim Chissano, in the northern Mozambican city of Pemba, on 7 January this year.
To lay the founding stones for the project, Guebuza and Mkapa presided at ceremonies on both sides of the river, at Mtambaswala, in Tanzania, and at Negomano, in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado.
Both presidents were also present at the signing of the building contract by representatives of both governments with a Chinese company in Mtambaswala.
Commenting on the importance of the bridge, President Guebuza said that this undertaking "will enhance the development, not only of the province of Mtwara, in Tanzania, but also of Cabo Delgado, on the Mozambican side, and the Southern African region as a whole".
President Guebuza's two day visit to Tanzania culminated with the signing of an agreement to suppress entry visa requirements between the two countries. The document was signed in Dar es Salaam by Mozambican Foreign Minister Alcinda Abreu, and by Tanzanian Interior Minister Ramadhan Mapuri.
The terms of the agreement do not state when it is to enter into force, but sources close to the two parties confirmed that it is a matter of a few weeks.
The document also states that, despite the agreement, each country reserves itself the right to refuse entry to any citizen who is regarded as "persona non grata".
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