Ben Lowry: Mozambique devoid of basic amenities

editorial image

The first in a series of reports from the News Letter’s Ben Lowry who travelled to the country with Concern Worldwide, whose director in the country is Niall Tierney from Limavady.

IN the middle of Mozambique, that long southern African country that runs along the Indian Ocean opposite Madagascar, there is a town without electricity called Chinde.

It is a charming looking place, with the decaying Portuguese architecture of its former colonial masters, including an Art Deco cinema.

But while once a minority European population of settlers lived the good life in towns such as this, now it is devoid of the basic modern amenities that most of the world takes for granted.

Thousands of people live in Chinde, and yet there are only four cars.

The cinema is long abandoned.

A handful of properties do have power, but derive it through their own generators, which roar.

The rest of the residences, which are mostly mud huts on the fringes of the old town centre, are dependent on candles after nightfall, which comes quickly after sunset in such tropical locations.

Chinde is the major regional town in one of the most impoverished places on earth.

It sits where the vast Zambezi River meets the sea, a river that includes Victoria Falls, and which winds to the ocean from neighbouring inland countries such Zambia and Zimbabwe — the latter once the breadbasket of Africa, now an economic ruin after decades of mis-rule by Robert Mugabe.

A visitor from a western nation to Chinde might at first be charmed by the simplicity of life there. You might even wonder if the absence of electricity is such a bad thing in a warm climate where homes never needs heating.

The lack of electricity means that people’s lives are not dominated by gadgets, for example.

But then you start to notice the downsides, which are pretty massive.

Using candles or kerosene for light is dangerous, as well as inconvenient.

The lack of fridges means that the population can do nothing with one of its major provisions, fish, unless it is eaten swiftly or dried.

It means that it is difficult to power agricultural equipment.

And so on.

Mozambique is, by some measures, one of the poorest countries on the globe. Three quarters of the population of 21 million live on less than $1.25 a day.

The News Letter travelled to the country with Concern Worldwide, whose director in the country is Niall Tierney from Limavady.

We will be reporting this week on the challenges in the country that endured a war of independence, then a 16-year civil war, and has had to grapple with more recent traumas such as increasing extreme weather events.

Concern took us to Chinde, which is the main town in the district of the same name, that has a population of around 120,000 people.

Many of them live in tribal villages, far from the health and other facilities available in big cities.

Chinde is extraordinarily isolated, which compounds its suffering. The 82km direct distance between the Zambezi provincial capital Quelimane took us more than 250km in an arduous, circuitous journey by jeep and boat.

The abandoned Art Deco cinema in the Portuguese-founded town of Chinde.