Saving victims of vicious war
Mozambican state’s red tape holds up emergency supplies
● Within hours of setting up medical facilities in the Mozambican town of Palma, Doctors Without Borders specialists were overwhelmed by patients, including babies, who had been shot and wounded.
“What our staff are seeing is horrifying” said Jonathan Whittall, director of the organisation’s analysis department, who was in Palma two weeks before it was attacked by Ahlu Sunnah Waljama’a-Jamaa insurgents.
“Palma, which has been besieged for months, was bad then. The difference between now and what I saw two weeks ago is stark,” Whittall said.
Palma was overrun 11 days ago, with rebels reportedly killing and wounding hundreds of Mozambicans and foreigners who work on a $60bn (R900bn) gas project run by French company Total on the nearby Afungi peninsula.
Since 2017 Mozambican forces have been battling an insurgency that has taken control of vast areas of the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
Whittall said reports from his organisation’s teams in Afungi described “utter chaos”.
“A humanitarian crisis has rapidly deteriorated even further since the attack,” he said. “The medical facilities in Palma have virtually collapsed. Only three of the seven health-care facilities are functioning.
“Within hours of our staff beginning work, they were overwhelmed by people seeking urgent medical attention. People are coming out of forests where they have been hiding for days with horrific conflict injuries.
Parents are bringing in children with multiple gunshot wounds. Heavily pregnant women are coming for emergency treatment.”
He said those who fled Palma survived by either walking for days to find safety or by hiding from the rebels in forests.
“Families have been separated. People are severely traumatised, hungry, dehydrated and in need of shelter. Our doctors are treating people with major gunshot injuries.
“While we are treating scores of patients, we fear many of the injured are either stuck in the surrounding bush, too severely injured to move, or despite being injured have tried to flee to other areas to find safety.”
Whittall said all of those the organisation treated wanted to leave the Palma district.
He said those who wanted to leave had arrived in Palma to seek safety after their villages were overrun by the rebels.
“Where they go now is a major challenge. Already over 670,000 people have been displaced. We have reports of people trying to make their way to Tanzania. Many have also gone to Pemba, the provincial capital, which is already overwhelmed by refugees.
“There are vast areas, which are largely inaccessible, where people are hiding, who will be in dire need of medical attention, food, water, shelter and sanitation.”
He said thousands of refugees had been taken in by Pemba residents, who had opened up their homes and shared their food.
But there were only so many who could be accommodated and fed, he said.
“It is not only those who have been displaced who need assistance with food, water and medical care, but also the thousands of people who have taken in the refugees.”
Whittall said humanitarian services required medical supplies and for staff to be brought quickly into the country.
“This is where a big challenge lies. We are an emergency medical organisation, so speed is of the essence. Compounding our work are the bureaucratic delays in securing medical supplies tied up in ports and securing visas for our emergency response staff to arrive so they can start doing the work that needs to be done.
“We need to get cracking with the work before the situation worsens even further. We need to urgently be distributing essential items such as medication, mosquito nets and plastic sheets for shelter and food.”
He said responses did not match the level of humanitarian needs.
“The recent declaration by the US of the rebels as terrorists linked to Isis has not sped up the humanitarian responses to help deal with the crisis.
“There will be some humanitarian groups who will now fear getting involved.”