Maputo    -   Escalating conflict and deteriorating food security in northern Mozambique, where more than 300,000 people have abandoned their homes and crops, could see “crisis” levels of food insecurity continue into 2021, the World Food Programme warned Tuesday.

“We are deeply concerned about the unfolding humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado where conflict and violence have left people without access to food and livelihoods,” WFP spokeswoman in Mozambique Antonella D’Aprile said in a statement. 

“Latest findings from Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET) indicate that communities will continue to face crisis levels of food insecurity into early 2021,” the statement said.

Tens of thousands of people who have lost access to food, and income sources are being deprived of humanitarian aid in northern Mozambique as extremist militants intensify an Islamist insurgency.

Since a spate of attacks on villages and towns in 2017, militants have killed more than 1,500 people and displaced over 300,000 according to WFP.

The Al-Shabaab Islamist group has occupied a strategic port in the town of Mocimboa da Praia in the north since August 12.

As the violence has intensified in the aid-dependent country over recent months, thousands of refugees have fled to neighbouring Tanzania, as well as into other northern Mozambican provinces, mainly Niassa and Nampula.

WFP said growing insecurity and poor infrastructure hampered efforts to reach out to people in need in the north, coupled with complexities brought on by the onset of  the coronavirus pandemic.

It said the additional shocks would particularly affect women and children, given that more than half of children under five are chronically malnourished in the Cabo Delgado area, the second highest rate in the country.  

The UN said that with Cabo Delgado currently recording Mozambique’s second-highest number of the country’s 6,912 coronavirus cases, population displacements could accelerate the spread of the virus.

The agency said it requires $4.7 million a month to assist the displaced in northern Mozambique, warning that it would be forced to reduce food rations as early as December if it does not secure the funds.