Sunday Times

Saving victims of vicious war

Mozambican state’s red tape holds up emergency supplies

- By GRAEME HOSKEN

● 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.”

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 ?? Main picture: Emidio Jozine/Reuters ?? A woman is comforted by friends after a ship carrying more than 1,000 people fleeing the war in Cabo Delgado arrived in Pemba, about 400km south of the attack in Palma this week. A huge rescue operation brought many to safety. Left: Jonathan Whittall.
Main picture: Emidio Jozine/Reuters A woman is comforted by friends after a ship carrying more than 1,000 people fleeing the war in Cabo Delgado arrived in Pemba, about 400km south of the attack in Palma this week. A huge rescue operation brought many to safety. Left: Jonathan Whittall.

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