The humanitarian situation in Mozambique, particularly in the central and northern provinces, has sharply deteriorated in the past four years. The southern African country has been experiencing a surge in extremist violence in its northern Cabo Delgado province since 2017, which has driven hundreds of thousands of people to flee within the province or to neighboring ones, in search of safety and shelter. In 2020, the crisis in Cabo Delgado triggered 584,000 out of the total 592,000 new displacements recorded in the country. This represents a near seven-fold increase on the figure for 2019. Displacement also occurred in the central provinces of Manica and Sofala which have been impacted by the violence between opposing political parties known as RENAMO and FRELIMO. Combined, these crises have left a total of 669,000 people internally displaced as of the end or 2020 across Mozambique.

The country is also affected by recurring floods and cyclones. Disasters and violence have often converged and increased the vulnerabilities of displaced populations. The most significant events triggering displacement recently have been cyclones Idai and Kenneth, that triggered 478,000 and 24,000 new displacements, respectively. Many were displaced once more during the seasonal rains which impact the country between October and April. By the end of 2020, an estimated 93,000 people were living in a situation of internal displacement as a result of floods and cyclones. 

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Mozambique has been affected by both growing violence in the northern and central provinces, as well as by the annual threat of weather events such as cyclones and floods. The country’s northern province of Cabo Delgado, one of the poorest and most marginalized in the country, has been experiencing the highest levels of displacement in recent years.

The conflict began in 2017 and has been driven by the rise and expansion of Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jama (ASWJ), a homegrown non-state armed group. The violence, which had previously been concentrated in smaller villages, began to expand into larger towns, triggering bigger displacement flows. These occurred within Cabo Delgado and to the neighboring provinces of Niassa, Nampula, Sofala and Zambézia.  

The drivers of the violence are multiple and evolving, but it is thought the discovery of offshore natural gas in the province in 2011 contributed to the group’s emergence as extraction remained in the hands of foreign companies and limited employment opportunities for the local population widened existing inequalities. ASWJ, which mainly recruits young local people, has carried out an increasing number of highly brutal attacks, in particular since late 2019, driving hundreds of thousands of new displacements. An estimated 1.3 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021.

Further south, clashes between RENAMO  and FRELIMO have increased and resulted in the displacement of over 7,000 people in the central provinces of Manica and Sofala.

Each year, tens of thousands of people are displaced, some for the first, others for the second or third time, as a result of flash floods and or cyclones. Mozambique was severely impacted by the 2019 Tropical Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which caused the displacement of 478,000 and 24,000 people respectively, and with this, long-term displacements of entire families still living in resettlement centers.

The number of IDPs in Mozambique has been increasing sharply in recent years as a result of the growing violence in Cabo Delgado. The armed attacks perpetuated by extremist militants increased in number and intensity in 2020, with larger towns being targeted by these groups, generating larger waves of displacement. Tens of thousands of people also remain trapped and cannot be reached by humanitarian actors as a result of the high levels of insecurity. There were nearly 67,000 IDPs living in hard-to-reach areas at the end of 2020.

The mass arrival of IDPs in Pemba, Cabo Delgado’s capital, increased the city’s population by more than 30 per cent. The displacement patterns in the country can be best explained by the trends observed throughout 2020, when the number of people displaced by the crisis in the northern provinces more than quadrupled from March to November.

The patterns of disaster displacement have seen important variations over time, with 2019 being the year with the highest figures, the result of the impacts of cyclones Idai and Kenneth. Other hydrometeorological hazards including floods and flash floods also trigger displacement every year, and many of the displacements reported are cyclical in nature.

Cyclone Idai was the event triggering the highest number of new displacements. It left long-lasting impacts two years after wreaking havoc across the central provinces of the country. An estimated 82,000 people were still internally displaced in November 2020. For many IDPs hosted in resettlement sites of the central provinces of Manica and Sofala, the risk of secondary and tertiary displacement by further disasters remains high. Many of these displacements go underreported. Cyclones often leave behind entirely destroyed villages, making the displacement longer for the displaced families, who have no place to return to.

Protracted and repeated displacement in Mozambique has been harmful in a range of ways, particularly as some of the provinces affected by disaster displacement have also been affected by conflict. More recently, the Covid-19 has added to the challenges.

Displacement by disasters and by the recent attacks in northern Mozambique have heightened protection risks significantly, particularly for women and girls, people with disabilities, older people and those living with HIV/AIDS. Many women and girls have been subjected to forced marriage, abduction, and gender-based violence.

Children, who make up around half of the displaced population in the country, are particularly vulnerable. Some have been forcibly recruited by armed groups and others have been deprived of education. In the context of these compounded shocks, children suffer disproportionately in terms of health and educational attainment. Malnutrition is common among displaced children, and they have also been affected by school closures due to conflict, disasters and Covid-19 measures.

The vast majority of IDPs in northern Mozambique seek shelter with host families, whose resources are being strained by the rapidly growing displaced population. A smaller proportion of IDPs, approximately ten per cent of them, are being hosted in collective centers, which are overcrowded and have limited access to safe shelter, water, and sanitation.

Around 580,000 of the 2.7 million people estimated to be acutely food insecure in Mozambique were in Cabo Delgado. Overall, in areas affected by conflict and displacement, most IDPs in temporary accommodation centres and resettlement sites are unable to farm as they would normally because they do not have access to land or inputs.

In December 2019, the Government of Mozambique ratified the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) and deposited its instrument of ratification in January 2020. However, the Government has not yet adapted the national legislation to the Kampala Convention. UNHCR, in accordance with its protection mandate, and in its capacity as the Protection Cluster Lead in Mozambique, is supporting the Government’s efforts in the domestication and implementation of the Kampala Convention.

In addition, Mozambique has developed a national Disaster Risk Management Plan 2017-2030. It guides actions to implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The Government of Mozambique, through its National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC) of the Ministry for National Affairs,  has built several regional centers designed for the management of emergency operations in providing assistance to persons affected including IDPs. While the INGC takes the leading role in the country when it comes to the prevention of and response in case of disasters, its efforts extend beyond this to supporting IDPs displaced due to conflict. The INGC has supported the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix in collecting displacement related data in the country as was the case for example with Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019. The government of Cabo Delgado province has also created a provincial commission to support relocation and resettlement plans of IDPs.

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