Mozambique News Agency
Residents from the locality of Nwamandzele, in the drought-stricken district of Mabalane, in the southern province of Gaza, are complaining that commercial farmers in the region are refusing to share their water sources with the local people. They made this denunciation in a meeting with Prime Minister Luisa Diogo, during her visit to that locality on 6 November.
Expressing her concern over the issue, Prime Minister Diogo told AIM that the farmers in question have already been identified and advised to change their attitude. "We have the names of these business people and we have already talked to them to change their attitude and to start responding to this kind of situation by sharing water resources with the residents, particularly in this emergency situation", she said.
Drought in the entire district of Mabalane is so serious that the district administrator, Emilia Machaieie, declared that all the existing 177 small reservoirs are completely dry. The Limpopo river, that runs across the district, barely exists: the once mighty river has been reduced to a few pockets of water here and there.
Prime Minister Diogo stressed that those who have some sources of water for the use of humans and livestock should share them with everyone else in the community, even if those sources were built at their own expense. "From the point of view of social life, in a situation where even the international community has been called upon for its support, it is essential that within Mozambique civil society and business people make their contribution", declared the Prime Minster.
Prime Minister Diogo's visit to Gaza, and particularly to Mabalane, aimed, among other issues, at verifying on the ground the situation of drought in one of the most affected provinces in the country, and the actions that the local government is taking to mitigate it.
She stressed the urgent need to open boreholes in the most affected areas, to relieve the chronic shortage of water, because otherwise the situation "may go from severe to dramatic within the next 30 days".
Meanwhile, the provincial government is looking into claims that at least 43 people have died of hunger in the province, provoked by prolonged drought. The provincial governor, Djalma Lourenco, on 7 November told Prime Minister Diogo that 34 of the deaths were reported in Alto Changane, three in Malehice (both in Chibuto district), and six in Nalaze (in Guija district). Lourenco said that the government had learnt of these deaths in direct contact with the population of these areas.
The figure for those in need of food aid in Gaza has now risen to 103,112. The province requires 5,000 tonnes of grain, 480 tonnes of pulses and 230 tonnes of vegetable oil to feed these people over the next three months. The estimated cost of this is 52 billion meticais (about $1.9 million).
The central government has already sent eight billion meticais to the province for mitigation programmes, of which six billion have so far been spent.
The United Nations World Food Programme is stepping up its activities in the province, and has raised the number of beneficiaries whom it supplies from 26,500 to 62,000 as from this month. As from January the number of people in Gaza benefiting from WFP aid is expected to rise to about 90,000.
Malnourished children dying in Sofala
The effects of the drought are leading to increased deaths in Sofala province. On 15 November the Maputo daily "Noticias" reported that at least 289 children, out of 1,408 diagnosed cases, died from malnutrition in Sofala province during the first nine months of this year.
These figures were disclosed during a meeting of the Provincial Health Consultative Council in Beira. Last year 182 malnourished children died.
The health authorities blame worsening malnutrition on the drought that has gripped much of southern and central Mozambique.
Minister of Women's Affairs and Social Welfare, Virgilia Matabele, on 9 November warned that, on current trends, the number of children in the country who have lost one or both their parents to AIDS will rise to 600,000 by 2010. She was speaking at an expanded session of the National Council for the Fight against AIDS (CNCS), which was analysing the state of the epidemic in central Mozambique.
The latest statistics on HIV prevalence among Mozambicans aged between 15 and 49 years gives a national average of 16.2 per cent. But in central Mozambique 20.4 per cent of people in that age bracket are HIV-positive, while in Sofala province the figure rises to over 26 per cent.
Matabele pointed to the "feminisation" of the epidemic. Around 60 per cent of the Mozambicans living with HIV/AIDS are women, and 40 per cent of the infected women are living in the central region. It is thought that 130,000 Mozambican teenagers (aged between 15 and 19) are HIV-positive, and 75 per cent of these youngsters are girls.
Dealing with this situation required a wide range of activities, said Matabele, to halt the spread of infection, particularly among young people, to prevent "vertical transmission" (from HIV-positive mothers to their babies), to provide anti-retroviral treatment to infected women and children, and to protect orphaned and vulnerable children.
The latest demographic and health survey of the National Statistics Institute (INE), carried out in 2003, showed a worrying gap in knowledge, with many more men than women knowing how to protect themselves. Matabele said that whereas 59 per cent of men knew at least two ways of preventing HIV/AIDS, the figure dropped to 44 per cent among women.
As for vertical transmission, Matabele said about 35,000 babies are born annually carrying the HIV virus, and that currently about 140,000 pregnant women are HIV-positive. She added that over 5,000 pregnant women have received anti- retroviral treatment, and over 3,000 new born infants have been treated with the anti-retroviral drug nevirapine, known to reduce dramatically the chances of vertical transmission.
Matabele praised the work of the Education Ministry in putting messages on the prevention of HIV/AIDS into the primary school curriculum, and the attempts of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, aided by UN agencies, to carry the message to young people outside of school.
Nonetheless, given the frightening demographic impact of AIDS, it was necessary to find more effective mechanisms for halting the spread of the disease.
"When children are orphaned, after their parents have died of AIDS, they become the responsibility of foster families, which are overburdened", said Matabele. Such children and such families needed to be assisted through professional training and income generation schemes.
There were also serious problems concerning the inheritance due to children whose parents die of AIDS, and the fate of women whose husbands fall victim to the disease. Matabele warned that when men die of AIDS there is a serious danger of violence against their widows, who are forced to abandon the family home, making the survival of their children all the more difficult.
Health Minister Ivo Garrido on 11 November stressed the importance of gender equality, saying that this must be regarded, not as merely a women's issue, but as a question of human rights. "All of us, men and women, may suffer gender inequalities in the social sphere, but the fact that women suffer the burden of discrimination much more heavily impels us men to look at that discrimination perceptively", he said, at the opening of a National Seminar on Gender and Health.
Unless the question was viewed as a matter of human rights, Garrido warned, women would continue to have no chance to decide on their own lives, including their state of health.
Gender equality, he continued, meant justice in the distribution of benefits, power, resources and responsibilities between men and women.
The integration of gender issues into the health sector, Garrido stressed, was part of the government's undertaking to reduce poverty. In fact, the national health service is doing quite well in terms of recruiting women, but the top echelons of the sector are still dominated by men. Garrido noted that the medical faculty at the country's largest university, the Eduardo Mondlane University, is training more women than men - nonetheless, women are still not very visible in health leadership and management.
But the Minister recognised there has been progress in promoting women at provincial level; now that progress needed to be replicated in the districts.
As for women's access to health services, Garrido said this had slowly improved - even so, only 47 per cent of births in the country happen in health units.
Garrido expressed his opposition to the payment of any fees for health services by poor women. This was a barrier to access that ought to be eliminated.
Prime Minister Luisa Diogo on 9 November swore into office the new chairman of the board of the country's publicly owned electricity company, EDM, Manuel Cuambe.
Cuambe, formerly the EDM director of electrification and projects, was appointed at a cabinet meeting on 8 November - the same meeting which relieved his predecessor, Vicente Veloso, of the job.
Prime Minister Diogo urged Cuambe to work so as to ensure good relations between EDM and its clients. The Prime Minister stressed that the major challenge facing EDM is the continued electrification of the Mozambican countryside, including by generators in those areas where the national grid, drawing power mainly from the Cahora Bassa dam, has not yet reached.
Prime Minister Diogo described EDM as "a strategic company", because "where there is electricity, development can begin".
She downplayed the allegations of corruption and mismanagement that have been levelled in the press against Veloso. "We have to change our way of looking at things", she said. "We have to change the culture of people who think that when the chairman of a public company leaves the job, it's because he has problems". The fact was, she added, that the chairman has a term of office (normally five years), at the end of which it may be renewed or not.
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Diogo admitted, "there may be cases when a particular company chairman is dismissed because he has not been doing his job properly. But in such cases the government would not wait until the end of his term of office".
"With Veloso, this is not the case", she stressed. (Veloso served two full terms, and his second term expired many months ago.)
After the ceremony, Veloso recognised that there were tasks he had left undone, which he blamed on financial difficulties. But he stressed that he "had the mission of ensuring that electricity from the national grid reached all the provinces, and that was accomplished, thanks to the young and fabulous team the company possesses".
The publicly owned Mozambican ports and railway company, CFM, is to rehabilitate 45 diesel powered locomotives as from January 2006 as part of its efforts to restructure the company and render it more profitable,.
This work, that also includes the rehabilitation of 1,000 wagons, is to be done in South Africa, and is budgeted at $31 million.
CFM delegate to the northern region, Filipe Nhusse, told reporters that to render CFM more competitive in the region, a new company has been created, named "Xitimela Leasing Ltd" where CFM holds 67.5 per cent of the shares, the remaining 32.5 belonging to South African investors. This company will lease out some of the rehabilitated locomotives.
Nhusse explained that the work is to start in January 2006, and it is expected to be completed by the end of the year, but the first few repaired locomotives should be returned to Mozambique by March or April.
"Now we are in the process of mobilising the necessary resources to bring to Maputo, by the end of this month, those engines that are in the northern port of Nacala, and have them ready to be transported to South Africa", he said.
He further explained that after their rehabilitation, some of the engines will be used by CFM, to improve its capacity in terms of transport, both of cargo and of passengers, while others will be put out to hire by "Xitimela Leasing", inside or outside the country.
As for the costs, Nhusse explained that, for instance, to bring the 10 locomotives from Nacala to Maputo, CFM is being charged about $500,000 because it takes a special ship, with a high cargo capacity.
Despite the two instalments of the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Counties) debt relief initiative, Mozambique's foreign debt still stood at over $4.4 billion at the end of 2004.
Addressing a Maputo workshop on debt management on 14 November, organised by the NGO coalition known as the Mozambican Debt Group (GMD), economist Adelino Pimpao pointed out that, since Mozambique continued to contract loans, the debt continued to rise. But its structure was different: prior to HIPC, most of the debt was bilateral, but now new loans come overwhelmingly on soft terms from multilateral organisations such as the World Bank. As a result, as of late 2004, 52 per cent of the debt was to the multilateral bodies.
Prior to HIPC, Mozambique had an unsustainable debt of $6.1 billion. Between them, original HIPC and "enhanced" HIPC wrote off $4.3 billion of debt in nominal terms (or just over $2 billion in net present value terms). But even during the years of HIPC negotiations, there were more loans. So after "enhanced" HIPC, the debt only fell (in nominal terms) to $3.6 billion - a substantial sum, but the lowest debt for about two decades.
More important is the debt service ratio - annual debt servicing as a percentage of exports of goods and services. This, Pimpao said, had fallen from 27 per cent in 1995 to just eight per cent in 2003. In terms of cash, Mozambique is paying its creditors about $100 million a year less than it would, in theory, have been paying without HIPC.
Yet the debt remains a drag on the state budget, and the country still spends more a year on debt servicing than, for example, on the health budget.
That was the context for the initiative by the G8 group of most developed countries this year, under which what is billed as "100 per cent" of the debts owed by Mozambique and 17 other poor countries to the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank will be scrapped.
But at the workshop nobody could say much about this. For the relief has been promised, but the details have not yet been ironed out. Indeed, the national director of policy studies in the Ministry of Planning and Development, Jose Sulemane, warned that the G8 announcement might not make any difference to the 2006 budget.
The budget that the government is presenting to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, envisages much the same level of debt servicing (around $55 million) in 2006 as in 2005. This seems to be a prudent attitude of only including in the budget debt relief that is fully confirmed.
Nonetheless, one donor source told AIM it was likely that the G8 initiative would knock $30 million a year off Mozambique's debt service.
While the public foreign debt has fallen, and with the G8 initiative looks certain to fall much further, some other categories of debt are rising. Domestic debt was scarcely a blip on the balance sheet in the 1990s - but reached about 1,000 billion meticais (some $35 million at current exchange rates) in 2003, falling off somewhat in the following year.
The huge rise in domestic indebtedness came in 2001, and the reason was clearly the recapitalisation of the two privatised banks, the BCM and Austral, which had been driven to the brink of ruin by their new owners. The state, which had remained a minority shareholder in both banks, was forced to rescue them and raised the money to do so through issuing treasury bonds at high interest rates. Paying off this debt will remain a burden on the state budget for years to come.
Pimpao pointed out that private company debt has also become significant. The payment of interest on these private debts was less than $20 million in 1998, but reached over $120 million in 2004.
The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 9 November unanimously passed the first reading of a bill establishing the Council of State, a body that will advise the President of the Republic.
The Council of State is envisaged in the constitutional amendments that took effect in January, but before it can be set up it needs a law establishing how it will function.
The Council will be chaired by the President, and its members include the chairperson of the Assembly (Eduardo Mulembue), the Prime Minister (Luisa Diogo), the chairperson of the Constitutional Council (Rui Baltazar), the runner-up in the latest presidential elections (Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo) and the Ombudsman (a post which has yet to be filled).
Any former Presidents and former heads of the Assembly will also sit on the Council of State. Currently there are only two such individuals - Joaquim Chissano, who was President from 1986 to February this year, and Marcelino dos Santos, who headed the Assembly from 1986 to 1994.
In addition, the President will appoint four "personalities of recognised merit", to the Council, while the Assembly will elect seven other such personalities "in accordance with parliamentary representation".
Given that the ruling Frelimo Party has 160 seats in the Assembly, and Renamo has 90, this means in reality that the Frelimo parliamentary group will appoint five members of the Council, while Renamo appoints two.
The bill states that the President must consult with the Council of State over the holding of general elections, any dissolution of the Assembly, any declaration of war, or of a state of siege or of emergency, or on holding any referendum. He may also call Council meetings to seek advice at any other time he deems fit.
The bill states that members of the Council of State will not be paid, though their travel and other expenses may be reimbursed. They will be entitled to a diplomatic passport, and a special identity card. Each member will also be entitled to carry a firearm "for personal defence".
No member of the Council may be arrested without the Council's consent, unless caught red-handed committing an offence for which the penalty is a prison sentence of two years or longer.
This list of privileges was not sufficient for Renamo. The Renamo members of the Assembly's Legal Affairs Commission demanded that all members of the Council of State should be paid (they did not say how much), that each council member should be given a state vehicle and free medical care, and that spouses and children of Council members should also receive diplomatic passports.
The Frelimo majority on the Commission objected, pointing out that such a list of privileges made no sense for membership of what was merely an advisory body, and one which might not meet very often. Free medical care and state vehicles were granted to people occupying certain permanent positions, and diplomatic passports were solely for the bearer, and could not be extended to his or her family members. The Frelimo deputies on the commission thus regarded the Renamo proposals as "irrelevant and without merit".
Renamo has not yet tabled any formal amendments to the bill, though that may happen when it is given a second reading to approve it article by article. The unanimity that characterised the vote on the overall bill may then break down.
The Japanese government has approved a grant equivalent to about $424,000 for mine clearance in the central province of Zambezia. To this end, the Japanese embassy and the Halo Trust, the Scottish-based NGO that will carry out the demining, signed an agreement in Maputo on 4 November.
Halo Trust representative Tim Turner told reporters that the Japanese grant will allow the demining work in Zambezia to be concluded in 2006. "I think it will be possible to complete the work in 2006, and extend demining activities to the northern provinces", said Turner.
But he warned of a series of obstacles that make demining a slow process - including contradictory information about where mines were laid (a problem he regarded as characteristic of post- conflict situations), the difficulties in access to remote areas, and the painstakingly meticulous nature of demining.
But he was optimistic that by the end of the Halo Trust's work all explosive devices will have been removed from all 16 of Zambezia's districts.
He believed that mine clearance has made great advances since the mid-1990s. "The number of land mine accidents has fallen drastically", he said. "Between 1996 and 2003 there were about 100 accidents a year, but in 2004 there were 30, and so far this year there have been 13".
This is a condensed version of the AIM daily news service - for details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
email: Mozambique News Agency
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