Brutal jihadist violence forced them to flee their homes, but now hunger has driven some in Mozambique to risk their lives by sneaking back to their old residences to gather food — or even resume farming.
Nearly 670,000 people have been displaced by an extremist insurgency that has raged for three years in northern Mozambique.
Some have moved in with host families, some are living in temporary shelters, while others have resettled in newly-created safe villages.
But a critical lack of food has led to a brave few returning to their old homes to forage for whatever they can.
lal Dady said that one day he left his new home in the Metuge resettlement camp to scour his granaries in Quissanga, a district in Cabo Delgado province where the Islamists are waging their bloody campaign.
“I got chestnuts and other food products to feed my family,” said the 22-year-old father of one.
Some are even more daring.
Mussa Cesar, 43, confessed that he goes back to Quissanga — an eight-hour walk — to work on his old farmland.
“I have been going to Quissanga for my field. I stay there around three days, cultivating and then come back,” he said, sitting under a tree and playing a traditional draughts game with friends.
“And I bring back manioc for my family here,” he said.
“We just don’t do the fishing, because we are afraid.”
– Voucher programme –
Attacks by shadowy jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State skyrocketed last year in gas-rich province, triggering a humanitarian crisis.
The number of violent incidents has dropped significantly, according to conflict data collating organisation ACLED, but the security situation is still precarious across the province.
Local authorities warned AFP journalists not to use some roads not far from the resettlement camps, because they were unsafe.
Villagers in the far-north Palma district, the home of a multi-billion-dollar natural gas project targeted by the militants, are particularly vulnerable.
The World Food Programme (WFP) distributed vouchers in December and January which locals use to buy food from shops.
But Cristina Graziani, head of the WFP field office in the provincial capital Pemba, said that programme was now “difficult to sustain because the stores are facing the same difficulties to restock commodities in Palma”.
Even before the insurgency struck, Cabo Delgado was already one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique, itself ranked among the world’s poorest countries.
The UN announced this week that 1.3 million people in Cabo Delgado and neighbouring Niassa and Nampula provinces are in need of humanitarian aid, with 950,000 facing “severe hunger”.
– Tussle over food aid –
The scramble for food is evident in the Pemba neighbourhood of Paquite Quete, where many displaced people have moved in with locals.
The locals complain that they are being excluded from humanitarian food aid, despite having taken in extra mouths to feed.
Widow Josina Fernando, 34, who is hosting 30 people who fled from the hard-hit district of Macomia, is angry at not being considered for food handouts.
“One day there was a distribution and I went there, but was sent away,” she said.
But some of the displaced also say they are missing out.
Fernando’s neighbour Nassab Hassane fled from Macomia and now lives with 27 people in the home of a family member.
He claims he has not received any help since arriving in Pemba four months ago.
“We never have received any vouchers, I don’t even know the colour of a voucher. They give them to the natives, not to refugees who are eligible,” the 44-year-old said.
WFP’s Graziani said that aid is channelled to those who have been registered.
She added that the local authorities of each neighbourhood handle registration, “to avoid conflicts between the displaced and the locals”.