The United Nations launched an appeal Friday for $254 million to help hundreds of thousands caught in an insurgency aimed at carving out a caliphate in northern Mozambique.
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A group known locally as Al-Shabab unleashed a violent campaign in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province in 2017 that has since killed more than 2,300 people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.
The UN said many people fled with just the clothes they were wearing and warned that 1.1 million people would need help next year.
“They lost their belongings, their livelihoods, their future,” said Myrta Kaulard, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in the country.
“Humanitarian assistance is vital to alleviate their suffering.”
The extremists have launched hundreds of attacks since starting their campaign by killing two police officers in the port city of Mocimboa da Praia in 2017.
The violence escalated this year and the militants now control swathes of the coast --including strategic ports and cities with gas installations -- and have advanced inland.
“Women and girls are at risk of abduction, gender-based violence and exploitation, while boys are at risk of being killed or recruited by armed actors,” said Kaulard, expressing particular concern about those trapped in isolated areas.
Thousands of refugees have poured into nearby towns and cities, staying with relatives or even strangers, leaving local services stretched to breaking point, the UN warned.
It said more than 90 percent of the displaced were living with family or friends already struggling with meager resources.
“Shelter is missing, they don’t have food, water is a problem. Then you have also sanitation, like latrines, all these are problems,” Valentin Tapsoba, the UNHCR head for southern Africa told AFP.
“We definitely need the international community to act, and acting is acting now. We should not wait,” he said.
With the rainy season approaching, many areas hosting those fleeing the violence are expected to flood, ramping up the pressure to find a quick solution.