Mozambique Can Be Brought Back From the Brink

THE civil war in Mozambique has cost thousands of lives and led to the exodus of over 1 million refugees. But current talks between the Mozambican government and the Renamo (Mozambican National Resistance) movement raise hopes for an end to the fighting. So far, the parties have signed three agreements.

If the continuing tragedy in Mozambique is to be definitely stopped, however, renewed efforts by the United States, the other Western democracies, and the United Nations are imperative.

The war carried out by Renamo against the government has wrecked the economic, communications, and transportation infrastructure of the country and has had a sharply negative effect on the health and education of the population. It is estimated that at least 35 percent of Mozambique's people have been affected by the war.

The World Bank estimates that in 1980 Mozambique was the world's ninth poorest country. By 1990, it was No. 1. At present, almost 60 percent of the population lives in "absolute poverty" - that is, their nutrition is inadequate even when more than 60 percent of their total income is spent on food.

Government officials estimate that the war has cost the country $15 billion; foreign aid now accounts for almost 80 percent of the gross national product.

The devastation of the countryside has led to both internally displaced people and to refugees in neighboring countries. Malawi has harbored more than 950,000 refugees, who have put a heavy load on its health and social services - a situation I witnessed five years ago, when it had not even reached present proportions. In some areas, such as the Msanje district in Malawi's southern tip, Mozambican refugees - who now total more than 280,000 - outnumber the local Malawian population.

As a result of the conflict, important gains in education and health were lost. Between 1975 and 1982, the number of schoolchildren had increased from 670,000 to 1,330,000, and illiteracy had been reduced by 20 percent.

By 1989, half of the country's primary schools had been destroyed, and 15 percent of the secondary schools had been closed. As a result, the total number of pupils decreased substantially from 1981 to 1988.

After independence, health centers were expanded throughout the rural areas, placing emphasis on preventive practices and health promotion. Mass vaccination campaigns carried out between 1976 and 1979 achieved 95 percent of full immunization in urban areas, and 44 percent full immunization among rural children.

Those initial accomplishments, however, could not be maintained. Mass vaccination campaigns had to be canceled or carried out clandestinely to prevent children, their mothers, or health workers from becoming targets of guerrilla attacks.

By some estimates, the war had caused 694,000 deaths by the end of 1988.

THE US and the other Western democracies could play an important role in ending the conflict by pressing Renamo (directly and through South Africa) to reach a peace agreement with the Mozambican government. At the same time, they should continue their valuable humanitarian assistance to Mozambique, especially now that the country is suffering from prolonged drought.

The UN could have a more active role by helping implement agreements already reached between the government and Renamo on fundamental principles - the criteria for forming and recognizing political parties and for holding elections. The UN can also help by increasing its already significant technical assistance.

The end of hostilities would allow Mozambique to redirect substantial resources from defense to development. Policies should be aimed at resettling returning refugees and internally displaced persons and at providing them with food and job opportunities.

These measures should be complemented by efforts to rebuild the economic, transportation, and health infrastructures in the country.

The provision of drinking water and basic sanitation are urgent needs. Maternal and child health should be areas of prime concern. By giving pregnant women adequate prenatal care, their newborns are more likely to be healthy and well taken care of.

The obstacles Mozambique faces are formidable. Although devastated by war, it can be rebuilt through well-directed help and realistic strategies. International efforts can help stop a lingering tragedy and transform Mozambique into a healed nation, a vibrant democracy, and a hopeful example for the entire region.

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