Trains no longer roll down the rickety tracks filled with valuable coal exports from this mining town in the northwestern Mozambican province of Tete as they did five years ago. Today, the rusty wagons and boxcars are indeed loaded, but with cargo of a quite different sort: temporary homes for thousands of hungry refugees streaming in from rural battle zones where Mozambique's leftist government is grinding out its 11th year of war against South African-backed rebels.
Strewn along the dusty grounds of the rail yards of Moatize, mothers go through the motions of daily life: preparing food, and fetching dirty water from a nearby stream using big blue five-gallon drums that say they originally carried cooking oil ``donated by the people of the United States of America.''
Some 4 million Mozambicans, many of them refugees, will need famine relief this year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The rebels control many of the rural areas, and already relief agencies are finding it difficult to get food and medical supplies to refugees in some areas.
But famine relief is reaching the refugees here. Many sleep in tents donated by European nations; food is brought in by military convoy on the highway from Zimbabwe; and rudimentary medical care is available.
Moatize is home to about 8,000 refugees, a small fraction of some 1 million Mozambicans who have been driven from their homes by the war against the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) guerrillas. Hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans have fled the country, and each of Mozambique's six neighbours, including South Africa, now have sprawling camps for Mozambican refugees.
At least 50 refugees arrive in Moatize each day, and local officials say they are preparing for another 70,000.
Punctuating the oppressive 105-degree heat are the screams of hundreds of infants that are being inoculated. The people giving the shots, and doing other tasks such as teaching classes to the refugees, are refugees themselves. Pedro Armoda, a young paramedic who works in half of a tiny cement block house, known as the adult hospital, is a good example.
Mr. Armoda is a native of Mutarara, a town overrun by Renamo last September in its biggest victory of the year. Caring for his fellow refugees keeps him quite busy, but thoughts of returning home persist. ``I never thought we would have to come all the way to Moatize. I thought we would be able to return home soon.''
That, however, is not very likely, according to government officials here.
``Everybody wants to go home,'' says Augusto Mange, Tete's provincial economic secretary. ``But first we have to know if their homes are still standing, if their villages are still there. They cannot go back if it is not safe.''
And with government forces on a major offensive, backed by troops from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, safety is scarce right now in the parts of Tete and the neighboring provinces of Zamb'ezia and Sofala, from which these refugees fled.
So the government, with the help of Western aid organizations, is placing the refugees in villages on the outskirts of Tete city, such as Padue and Benga, and giving them small plots to farm.
But the flood of people in the refugee center is straining the government relief effort. Since early January, 10,000 refugees have come to Moatize and Tete city. Most of them, like Mr. Armoda, have spent several months in Malawi, to which they first fled after Renamo attacks on their towns late last year.
Some, like Joao Folouale and 68 of his neighbours, were living in the northern part of Tete until Renamo guerrillas burned their village and stole their food.
With water as their only sustenance, they ran for seven nights along the Zambezi River to elude the rebels until they reached Moatize with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Renamo killed one elderly woman and kidnapped 52 people, witnesses said.
``We do not know where they were taken,'' said Mr. Folouale, a corn farmer whose wife was among those kidnapped.