While the number of active cases of covid-19 in Mozambique currently stands at just 550, the number of people feeling the socio-economic impacts is in the millions.
Even before the pandemic, Mozambique was experiencing very serious food insecurity problems, with the World Food Programme (WFP) projecting that around 1.4 million people would be in need of food assistance over the coming months, especially in rural areas. “The big difference with covid is that all of a sudden our concern is now also for the low-income urban areas because of the impacts of so many people losing their livelihoods,” WFP’s Acting Country Director in Mozambique, James Lattimer, told Zitamar at the end of May.
The informal contracts many people are employed through means they have few protections in place, and those living in cities are less likely to have land that they can use to grow their own food if they aren’t paid.
“We’re still hammering out our targeting strategy here, but it’s estimated that as many as 2.3 million Mozambicans might have been affected by the socio-economic effects of covid now,” said Lattimer.
WFP is working through two channels to support people: the first is through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Action (MGCAS) to help them scale up their own social protection payment system; and the second is through WFP’s own direct cash programme, which it is establishing jointly with UNICEF.
“We are hoping to start providing cash payments to needy beneficiaries in low income bairros in urban and peri-urban settings,” said Lattimer. The cash payment system should start in July in Moatize, in Tete, with subsequent expansion to other large municipalities. Two mobile money platforms are being considered for the cash payments: Vodacom’s M-pesa and Motivel’s E-mola.
WFP is now harmonising its targeting approach with the government, to ensure the criteria to decide which families receive payments and how much they receive, are aligned, said Lattimer.
A problem compounded
WFP has also been continuing emergency food assistance to just over one million people in Mozambique. These include internally displaced people in Pemba because of the insurgency; the thousands of people are still living in resettlement centres in central Mozambique following Cyclone Idai, as well as others who returned home but were unable to farm as their land has become salinated; the 7,000 people living in the Maratane refugee camp in Nampula; and those who have suffered prolonged drought in Gaza, southern Tete, parts of Inhambane, and parts of Maputo province.
The WFP has had to rapidly adapt its 500 distribution points across the country to ensure that they comply with the new physical distancing measures. This included redesigning points to allow better crowd control, installing hand wash stations, and distributing personal protective equipment to all staff and partner staff. “However, we got it up and running again within ten days” of the state of emergency being introduced, said Lattimer.
Some development projects suspended
While WFP’s food distribution has been well adapted to deal with covid-19, some aspects of its longer-term development projects have had to be temporarily suspended because of the need to respect social-distancing measures.
Several of these programmes are focused on adapting farming practises to deal with the serious drought in southern Mozambique.
“Unfortunately, this is the fourth year running with a serious drought situation affecting the south of the country. I would say, with climate change, long dry spells are no longer an emergency situation but are becoming a predictable event,” said Lattimer.
In partnership with INGC, WFP is introducing more climate resilient agriculture practises in the south of the country. This includes water capture projects to help raise the water table in dry areas over time through making better use of rainfall, improving irrigation and drainage, reforestation and land terracing.
The partners are also giving communities the option to plant crops which are better suited than corn to dry conditions, as well as introducing weather-based insurance schemes so that even if farmers lose their crops, they can still get a pay-out.
While these projects have not completely stopped in response to the covid-19, they have slowed down. “Anything that involves face-to-face contact, such as the classroom sessions to train farmers, have been stopped to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Lattimer.
*This article was edited on 14h00 on 23 June 2020 to reflect the fact that UNICEF is running the cash payment programme jointly with WFP
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