Drought That Helped End a War

A MASSIVE international relief effort here has averted a humanitarian disaster on the scale of Somalia, and has helped accelerate the peace process in this war-ravaged country, aid workers say.

"The drought has been a major factor in ending the war," says Caetano de Aranjo Jasse, government administrator of the overcrowded Vila de Sena.

The devastation caused farmers to flee territory held by the Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo), depriving the former rebels of their food source. Simultaneously, efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to get food to starving villagers in Renamo areas helped provide the UN with transportation and communication links with Renamo.

"We were the only ones working on the Renamo side ... and this helped to level facilities ahead of the peace agreement," says Daniel Augsburger of the ICRC. "Every time we open roads there is a confidence-building process...."

Civil war has gripped Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975. The battle between South Africa-backed Renamo and the formerly Soviet-backed government turned this nation of 16 million into one of the poorest in Africa, destroying infrastructure and isolating large portions of the people from aid.

Until the Oct. 4 signing of a peace accord, the UN had made little progress getting Renamo to allow safe food corridors into its areas. Since then, Renamo has de-mined access routes, allowing the World Food Programme (WFP) and the ICRC to deliver more than 1,100 tons of supplies.

"What saved Mozambique was that there was already an established aid community of some 160 nongovernmental organizations," a Western diplomat says.

"The main goal in the region as a whole was not primarily to prevent deaths, but rather to support rural economies and to prevent people from losing, selling, or eating their assets," says Mercedes Sayagues, WFP regional information director. "But in the case of Mozambique, we were faced with the threat of starvation."

The drought has displaced about 2 million Mozambicans. Another 1.4 million have fled to Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Mozambique has received 550,000 tons of food to date. The government estimates that it still needs 100,100 tons of corn, 13,200 tons of beans, and 6,050 tons of vegetable oil to feed 4 million people dependent on aid.

The UN and the Mozambican government launched an emergency appeal earlier this month for $500 million in food and development aid for 1993.

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