Mozambique: A case study in the role of the affected state in humanitarian action

Originally published



This is the first in a series of case studies examining the role of the affected state in humanitarian action.

Key research questions for the project are:

- What role should governments play in the coordination of humanitarian actors, and how do state coordination roles relate to international actors?

- How do international humanitarian actors assess the capacity of the state to respond to disaster and make decisions about when it is appropriate to substitute for the state?

- What is the appropriate role of nongovernmental actors in influencing the state to fulfil its responsibilities to assist and protect citizens affected by disasters?

- What are the perceptions of government officials involved in particular disaster responses about international humanitarian actors, and vice versa?

- What capacities do states have to respond to disasters and legislate for and coordinate international actors at both national and local levels?

- How can tensions between the desire of states to ensure the accountability of humanitarian organisations and the concern of humanitarian actors to maintain independence be resolved?

The report is based on a visit to Mozambique carried out in late May/early June 2007 to examine the response to floods and a cyclone that struck the country at the beginning of the year.

During the early months of 2007, Mozambique suffered a double disaster of severe flooding in its central region river basins and a category four cyclone that devastated coastal districts in one of its southern provinces. Between 300,000 and 500,000 people are believed to have been affected by the two disasters through the loss of their homes or livelihoods.(1) These simultaneous catastrophes seriously stretched the capacity of the national authorities and humanitarian agencies based in the country, and highlighted a number of issues related to coordination and communication between them.

The emergency response was coordinated by the government of Mozambique's Instituto Nacional de Gest=E3o de Calamidades (INGC). It succeeded in evacuating up to 200,000 people from the flooded area without loss of life. Its emergency preparedness measures undoubtedly also reduced the number of deaths and injuries from the cyclone that struck around the same time. The two largest UN agencies in Mozambique, UNICEF and WFP, played the leading role in providing emergency relief along with the Mozambique Red Cross and a number of international on-governmental organisations (INGOs). Within two weeks of the declaration of a 'Red Alert', WFP had distributed food aid to some 33,500 flood victims.(2) UNICEF had provided water and sanitation supplies, including plastic sheets, chlorine, water tanks and latrine slabs.(3) Other agencies ensured that emergency medical supplies were being provided and that people's basic life-saving needs were being met.

Over 100,000 people spent between one and three months living in the temporary accommodation centres before the flood waters receded. There were no major outbreaks of disease or any indications of serious excess morbidity rates in the centres. A subsequent evaluation of the international relief effort concluded that 'the real needs for emergency relief were largely met' by the operation.(4) These findings are discussed in more detail later in the report.


(1) These figures are discussed in more detail later in the report.

(2) UN World Food Program, WFP helps Mozambique flood victims, as a second tropical storm brings heavy rain to Central provinces, 20 February 2007,

(3) UN News Centre, Mozambique: UN agency to buy food locally for flood victims to help economy, 20 February 2007,

(4) John Cosgrave, Celia Goncalves, Daryl Martyris, Riccardo Polastro and Muchimba Sikumba-Dils, Inter-agency real time evaluation of the response to the Feb uary 2007 floods and cyclone in Mozambique, Inter-Agency Humanitarian Standing Committee, Humanitarian Country Team, Mozambique, April 2007.