Mozambique News Agency
The death toll from the massive explosions at the military arsenal in the outer Maputo suburb of Malhazine on 22 March has reached 101 according to medical sources. This is the number of bodies that have entered the morgues of Maputo hospitals. The health services have treated 492 injured people, 42 of whom are still hospitalised.
Military teams have been collecting rockets, mortar and artillery shells and other projectiles that were hurled across the city by the blazing arsenal. According to the Mozambican armed forces (FADM), these teams have removed "90 per cent" of the unexploded ordnance that was hurled out of the arsenal. A dozen of the neighbourhoods where the projectiles fell are now considered to be entirely free of danger, with all unexploded items removed, However, outer suburbs near the arsenal, such as Albazine, Mahotas, Magoanine and Zimpeto, have still not been fully cleared, though the military teams involved in removing the shells, rockets and other debris say the number of requests they are receiving has declined substantially. According to the Emergency Operations Centre (COE), by 27 March 3,964 pieces of ordnance had been collected. The COE data put the death toll from the explosions at 104, with 750 families affected, of whom 67 had their houses entirely destroyed.
On 24 March brigades from the publicly owned electricity company, EDM, succeeded in re-establishing the supply of power to Gaza and Inhambane provinces. They had to repair the transmission line and the Infulene sub-station, which had been damaged by shells flung out from the arsenal.
Citizens continued to visit the blood bank at Maputo Central Hospital in response to the health ministry's plea for more blood donors. Among them were parliamentary deputies of the ruling Frelimo Party who went to the hospital in two groups to give blood. The 160 Frelimo deputies are also offering a day's wages in solidarity with the families affected by the disaster.
One prominent deputy, former general Bonifacio Gruveta, told the daily paper 'Noticias', he was sure that the arsenal would soon be removed from Malhazine. 'We must find areas that are distant from the population', he said. Asked about the criticism of the government for failing to take preventive measures, Gruveta admitted that these critics were right.
The installations at Malhazine contain not one, but several arsenals. It is feared that there is still a great deal of explosive material in Malhazine, posing a threat to Maputo.
Addressing the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 29 March, Defence Minister Tobias Dai promised that the government would support the reconstruction of houses and of public infrastructure destroyed by the explosions.
The Minister also pledged that the government would "finalise the destruction of obsolete weaponry", and speed up the transfer of all military arsenals to places distant from centres of population. Speaking to reporters later, Dai stated that it will cost 600 million meticais (about $24 million) to move all the arsenals.
The head of the parliamentary group of the ruling Frelimo Party, Manuel Tome, expressed "deepest recognition, praise and appreciation" for all the health workers, red cross activists, firemen, soldiers, policemen, blood donors and others who had worked to save lives during and after the explosions.
Like Dai, he said nothing about the causes of the disaster, but praised President Armando Guebuza for his speedy decision to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry. This commission consists of three senior judges - the President of the Administrative Tribunal (the body that monitors the legality of public expenditure), Antonio Pale, the presiding judge of the Maputo city court, Augusto Paulino, and the director of the Judicial Training Centre, Bemvinda Levy.
Tome hoped that the Commission would present its results "in the shortest possible space of time, without obeying any dictates other than those of the truth".
Tome urged the government "to continue supporting those affected by the explosions, in line with the real possibilities of our state, so that the lives of citizens may be rapidly normalised".
It was left to Eduardo Namburete, spokesperson for the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition, to strike a critical note, describing the explosion as "a barbaric crime". What had happened at the Malhazine arsenal "cannot be described as a natural disaster", said Namburete, attacking the initial excuse given by the military, which blamed "high temperatures" for the explosions.
"Accusing the heat of causing the explosions is the easiest path for the government to include its own negligence in the list of disasters affecting the country", declared Namburete. For him the explosions "are a crime for which the government must be held responsible".
He pointed out that the first time explosions occurred at Malhazine was in 1985, when 13 people died and 100 were injured. In the subsequent 22 years, "little or nothing was done to prevent history from repeating itself. How many more people must die before the government decides to destroy these devices which make the lives of Maputo citizens a constant uncertainty?"
Namburete cited a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, and the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC). This said that the most likely cause for the explosions was the physical or chemical deterioration of the weaponry in the arsenal.
He also cited the 2001 SADC (Southern African Development Community) protocol on firearms, which took effect in 2004, under which SADC member states undertook to keep a national inventory of weapons owned by state agencies, to improve their capacity for keeping weapons in safe condition, and to destroy superfluous or obsolete weapons. The Malhazine explosions, said Namburete, showed that the Mozambican government had not complied with this SADC protocol.
As for talk of the government providing "possible support" for the victims, Namburete dismissed this as "the hypocrisy of power". Those who had lost their loved ones, lost their homes, lost all that they owned "are not responsible for the poor state of conservation of artefacts which the government ought to have destroyed", he declared. "The only reasonable and responsible thing the government can do is take responsibility for the incident and compensate the victims".
Here Namburete was on strong legal ground. The Constitution states that "The State is responsible for the damage caused by illegal acts of its agents", and the massive destruction caused by the explosions was certainly a breach of the law, albeit an unintended one.
Renamo also did not regard the commission set up by Guebuza as sufficient, and Namburete called on the Assembly to set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry.
Mozambique needs about $5 billion to invest in energy projects to solve the current crisis in this sector, according to Energy Minister Salvador Namburete.
The government is currently seeking investments for new hydroelectric power stations. Of these the largest is the projected Mepanda Nkua dam, on the Zambezi River 70 kilometres downstream from the existing dam at Cahora Bassa.
Mepanda Nkua could generate 1,300 megawatts, a new power station on the Lurio River could produce 120 megawatts, and the recently rehabilitated dam at Massingir, on the Elephants River, a major tributary of the Limpopo, could contribute 27 megawatts.
Speaking to reporters during an interval in the Forum of African Energy Ministers, Namburete added that a gas-fired power station in Inhambane province could produce 750 megawatts. There were also plans for a large coal-fired power station at Moatize in Tete province.
"At the same time we are still conducting feasibility studies on other places with the potential to generate energy", the Minister said. "We have a great energy potential, that may reach 12,500 megawatts in hydropower alone. That would be enough to satisfy our needs, not only to serve the people, but also for the mega-projects".
Several major industrial projects are held up because of a shortage of power. This is the case, for example, with the third phase of the MOZAL aluminium smelter. "MOZAL III and other projects are awaiting the confirmation of availability of energy to go ahead. We want those projects to be developed quickly", said Namburete.
Speaking of the forum, Namburete said that its aim is "to harmonise points of view concerning ways to solve the crisis of energy on the African Continent".
Drought is affecting 25 of Mozambique's 128 districts as a result of irregular rainfall during the 2006/07 rainy season, according to Public Works Minister Felicio Zacarias. Most of the drought-stricken districts are in the south of the country, and their situation is in dramatic contrast to that of the Zambezi valley, which has been suffering from severe flooding.
Zacarias noted that the geographical situation of the country renders it vulnerable to water and weather related disasters, such as cyclones, floods and drought. Faced with such phenomena, Mozambique has to deal with the challenge of designing strategies to enable the country to live with them, as advocated by the United Nations, which marked World Water Day on 22 March under the theme 'Living with Water Shortages'.
Zacarias said that the fight against water shortages calls for an adequate strategy to manage water resources, a clear vision of the objectives to be attained at every stage, the application and combination of scientific and technological knowledge of the best experiences in the sustainable use of available resources, and infrastructures to retain water and regulate water flows.
He said that although there are still low rates of water supply to people living in the Mozambican countryside, it remains possible to attain the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) that calls for a 50 per cent reduction in the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation by 2015.
He noted, however, that this will only be possible as a result of an effort within the country plus international cooperation. The available data show that Mozambique needs at least $182 million to respond to the challenge of water supply and sanitation.
The Mozambican government and its partners recently launched the 'One Million' initiative, aiming at speeding up the attainment of the water supply and sanitation Millennium Goal.
With a six-year duration, the 'One Million' initiative hopes to supply clean water to a million people in rural areas, through the building of new water sources and the rehabilitation of existing ones that are no longer functioning.
The European Union (EU) is prepared to grant more money than the pledged €600 million ($817 million) of aid to the Mozambican poverty relief programme. The announcement was made in Maputo on 26 March by the chief of the EU delegation Glauco Calzuola, following a meeting between President Armando Guebuza and representatives of EU member countries on the occasion to mark the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the EU.
"So far, the indication is that the EU is prepared to spend, during the next five years, between €500 and €600 million in aid to Mozambique", said Calzuola. He explained that these amounts are not included in other aid budgets, which include NGOs and other such organizations.
Calzuola said that the EU is finalizing a programme of support to Mozambique for the period between 2007 and 2013.
The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 22 March passed amended legislation on local elections, despite claims by the main opposition party Renamo that the ruling Frelimo Party is trying to prevent citizens from voting.
The law, which will govern the municipal elections scheduled for 2008, is not substantially different from previous local election legislation, although there are a few improvements and clarifications.
Thus before the ballot papers are printed, candidates will be able to check what is appearing on them to see if it is line with the symbols and photographs they delivered to the National Elections Commission (CNE). This should avoid any embarrassing mistakes on the ballot papers.
The law also states clearly that if a voter has lost his voter's card he may still vote provided his name is on the electoral register, and he can show an identification document that bears his photograph. This explicitly allows citizens to vote just by showing their identity card or passport.
Several clauses first introduced for general elections are inserted into this law. They include the provision that ballot boxes must be transparent.
There are five areas of dispute between Frelimo and Renamo. One concerns funding for the municipal election campaign. Renamo insists that this should be subsidised by the state, but Frelimo argues that candidates should raise their own funds.
Renamo also wanted each polling station to cater for no more than 500 voters, and claimed that Frelimo put no limit at all on the numbers that could be registered at any one station.
This was incorrect since Frelimo had clearly stated in earlier legislation (such as the bill on electing provincial assemblies, passed last week) that it envisages each electoral register containing a maximum of 1,000 names.
Renamo alleges that, since the election will be held on just one day, there will not be enough time for more than 500 people to vote at any one polling station. Renamo was thus assuming that the polling stations will be badly organised, and that turnout will approach 100 per cent - rather unlikely on the basis of past experience.
Renamo demanded that the polling stations should be in exactly the same places as the voter registration stations, so that citizens would know where to go to pass their votes. Frelimo's wording was that registration and polling stations should be in the same place "whenever possible".
For Renamo, this was an attempt to confuse the electorate. "Frelimo is doing everything to reduce the number of voters", claimed Luis Boavida. "Frelimo wants to site the polling stations arbitrarily so that people can't find them".
Frelimo deputy Lidia Geremias retorted, "there are things beyond our control, such as natural disasters". As shown by this year's flooding in the Zambezi Valley, it was entirely possible that a place used for voter registration might be destroyed, and it would become physically impossible to put a polling station there.
The Renamo deputies demanded that the registers used at the polling stations be the original ones, written out by hand during the voter registration exercise. Frelimo wanted the originals kept by the electoral bodies, while "authenticated copies" were sent to the polling stations.
Although the term "authenticated" implies that the information contained in the copy will be the same as in the original, Renamo claimed this was a manoeuvre to change the data and eliminate voters' names. Frelimo, accused Manuel Lole, was trying "to confuse voters who won't be able to find their names in the registers. This is the behaviour of a party that wants war".
Boavida complained that in previous elections registers meant for one province had ended up in another - which is perfectly true, but it is hard to see why using original registers rather than copies will eliminate negligence by election officials.
A further dispute concerned the possibility of discrepancy between the number of voters ticked off the register and the number of ballot papers found in the ballot box. The Frelimo wording was that in such cases it is the number of ballot papers that will count - unless there are more ballot papers than registered voters, in which case the election at that station will be declared null and void and repeated on the following Sunday.
Renamo's proposal was that only a discrepancy of five per cent or less could be accepted. If there was any larger discrepancy the election should be declared null and void.
Deputy after deputy claimed that the Frelimo wording was an invitation to ballot box stuffing. "What happens if only 200 people vote, but there are 1,000 ballot papers in the box?" asked Luis Gouveia.
The same provision can be found in Portuguese legislation, and United Nations advisors, back in 1993, suggested that it should go into the first Mozambican electoral law, to govern the 1994 presidential and parliamentary elections.
It has been in every electoral law since then, and Renamo only began protesting against it in December 2006. The justification for this clause is that discrepancies are likely to arise when inexperienced and tired polling station staff forget to tick off the names of those who have voted on the register. In such circumstances, the number of papers in the ballot boxes is a far better indication of the real number of voters than the number of marks on the register.
The guarantee against fraud is supposed to be the presence of polling station monitors from the competing parties who would spot any attempt to stuff the ballot boxes.
Boavida backed a menacing suggestion made by Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama that he would mobilise former Renamo guerrillas to keep watch on the polling stations, and even attack the police if their behaviour displeased Renamo.
For the Frelimo deputies this merely proved that Renamo had no real interest in holding elections at all. "Renamo doesn't want elections to happen, because of its incapacity to mobilise people to vote for it", declared Eduardo Galiza-Matos Junior.
"Renamo is not prepared to take part in elections - that's why it's making inflammatory speeches", said Abel Safrao. Frelimo, on the other hand, was busily preparing for "a resounding victory" at the polls.
When the bill was put to the vote, the division was on straightforward party lines, with the 140 Frelimo deputies present voting in favour and the 77 Renamo deputies voting against.
By 2008 Mozambique should have modern legislation on protecting children, in line with international protocols, in place. According to prominent jurist Abdul Carimo, who heads the government's Legal Reform Technical Unit (UTREL), two key pieces of draft legislation went before the government on 27 March. These are a framework law on child protection, and a law overhauling minors' courts.
Carimo, who is attending a conference on the prevention of child trafficking in Johannesburg, told AIM that it had become necessary to identify all the gaps that needed to be filled. This has also implied changes in the country's penal code and labour legislation (the amended labour law currently before the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, takes the provisions of the international conventions on child work into account).
Carimo hoped that these two laws would be tabled before the Assembly so that they can be passed at its end of year sitting. In the meantime, the Ministry of Justice is working on a specific bill that will make trafficking in children a criminal offence.
A team headed by Justice Minister Esperanca Machavela has worked on this bill, which is now in its third draft. A final version has yet to go before the government, but Carimo was optimistic that it would be passed into law by the Assembly in 2008.
The Mozambican government now has $405,000 available to prepare its second national communication on climate change, according to the National Coordinator for the Convention on Climate Change, Telma Manjate. This document should be concluded by the first quarter of 2009.
Manjate was speaking on 20 March during an interval in a national seminar launching the project for drawing up the document. She said the communication will consider the prevailing situation by sectors, and identify the vulnerability of each of them to climate change.
For his part, the Deputy National Director for Environmental Promotion, Francisco Licucha, warned of the danger of desertification facing much of the country. The threat now covers 30 to 40 per cent of the country.
Areas near the main cities, affected by indiscriminate destruction of forests to obtain firewood and charcoal, areas devastated by uncontrolled wood fires (often set to clear land for agriculture), and those parts of the country that have suffered frequent droughts, are those that are showing advanced signs of desertification.
Licucho noted that although Mozambique contributes very little of the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, responsible for making the planet hotter, it is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.
This is a condensed version of the AIM daily news service - for details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
email: Mozambique News Agency
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