Farming and fishing communities are being displaced for offshore gas development in Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of Mozambique. The situation is complicated by Islamist insurgency; villages have been raided and people killed. The root motivations of these attacks are complex. Sudden arrival of gas companies, in a region that has endured decades of poverty, led to young men suffering high levels of unemployment and lack of livelihoods becoming targets for enrolment by Islamist armed rebels. The first flight to land at Afungi Airstrip, built to serve the Mozambique LNG project in Cabo Delgado, was reported on 20th February 2020. In a 24th February 2020 Al Jazeera article Ilham Rawoot of environmental non-governmental organization Justica Ambiental reported from discussions with villagers from communities being forcibly displaced for gas development in Cabo Delgado. Their concerns and objections to the resettlement process had ‘fallen on deaf ears’. Farming and fishing livelihoods were being lost. Many affected people said compensation was inadequate and in some cases allocation of new plots of arable land triggered conflict because the land encroached on other communities’ farmland. Gas industry jobs they had been promised had not materialized. Mozambique LNG project acquired 6,625 hectares of land on the Afungi Peninsula, in the form of a DUAT (Direito de Uso e Aproveitamento da Terra) - a right to use and benefit from the land. The project includes an airstrip and adjoining project camps. Mozambique LNG: Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) Summary, published in April 2019, includes a graphic indicating the locations of 556 households (2,446 people) who will be displaced by the project. Many of these people will lose access to agricultural land, fishing grounds and intertidal gathering areas. Women are anticipated to be more severely affected due to patriarchal social structures affording them lower status regarding property ownership, land rights and participation in fishing. A small number of the households to be displaced are shown to be located within the site of Afungi airstrip and project camps on the southwest border of the site. The resettlement village site, in the area of the Quitunda settlement, is on the outside of the DUAT boundary, just 300 kilometres from the northern portion of the Afungi airstrip runway. A map in the DUAT Encroachment Management Plan shows sites allocated for the airstrip, camps adjoining the runway and other project camps. Mozambican state oil and gas company Empresa Nacional deHidrocarbonetos (ENH) acquired the DUAT from the Ministry of Agriculture in 2012. Subsequently the DUAT was transferred to Rovuma Basin LNG Land, LDA (RBLL), a joint venture between AMA1, Eni and ENH. Project components specified in Mozambique LNG: Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Summary include airstrips and worker housing. Impacts on community health anticipated in the ESIA from Project workforce and in-migration include communicable diseases, increased demand on health infrastructure, food and nutrition-related issues, community accidents and sexually transmitted diseases. Environmental impacts of the projected influx of people to the project area detailed in the ESIA include reduction of bird habitat quality and indirect impacts on mammals.
Afungi Airstrip conflict
On 21st February 2019 an employee of Gabriel Couto, a company contracted to build the airport in the LNG project site, was murdered in a fatal attack on a convoy of sub-contractors working for Anadarko, operator of the Cabo Delgado LNG project. The worker was be headed, and the attack left another six people injured. Sources in Mozambique’s security and logistics sectors told Petroleum Economist that the convoy had been transporting Anadarko contractors to the project site when it came upon a village in flames, under attack by insurgents. The convoy turned around but was shot at by another group of insurgents in a village through which it had passed earlier. The man who was murdered was travelling in a separate car and appeared to have been killed when he got out of the car upon encountering the attack. The Afungi airport project is designed to help LNG projects avoid road travel as much as possible. At this juncture the airport facility was at least two years away from completion. It was the first incidence of international oil companies being directly caught up in the armed insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province. Whether the attack specifically targeted Mozambique’s emerging gas industry was unknown, but it highlighted future security problems for the region. The attack led to talk of a shift in insurgents’ strategy towards targeting gas projects. In response the government promised to step up security in the province. Interior minister Basilio Monteiro promised to send various units of Mozambique’s defence and security forces to bolster security around the gas projects. Anadarko, whilst stating that the evidence indicated that their contract personnel, LNG project and airstrip were not targeted in the attack, expressed gratitude for the government action to increase security. The company stated that thanks to the government response it was expected that the project would continue according to its current schedule. But authorities’ response to the attack stoked resentment among the local population who were already concerned that their safety was a lower priority for the government than the gas projects. Hundreds of villagers had been killed since the insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province began.
Afungi COVID-19 outbreak
On 30th September 2019 French oil and gas company Total became the main operator of Mozambique LNG upon acquiring Anadarko’s 26.5% stake. On 2nd April 2020 Total confirmed a COVID-19 case at Afungi, the tenth case to be confirmed in Mozambique. An employee working at the LNG project site at Afungi had tested positive for Covid-19, having worked on the site since 9th March and beginning to feel unwell on 27th March. The individual was reported to be in self- isolation since 29th March after being tested in a facility in Maputo. On 9th April it was reported that five cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among 35 Total workers who had been in contact with the first worker at the site to test positive. Total announced a decision to place ‘the entire project in quarantine’, reducing site operations to a minimum with only ‘critical activities, such as aerodrome safety operations’ continuing. Total stated that all of the almost 500 workers, of various nationalities, at the Afungi site would be required to stay in their rooms and be tested for COVID-19 and that, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health all local contacts of the confirmed cases outside the project site would be traced. On 14th April it was reported that Total’s Afungi project was Mozambique’s COVID-19 epicentre, with 17 of Mozambique’s 28 confirmed cases linked to the site. The first worker at the site to test positive had transmitted the disease to at least 10 other people and seven new cases, all connected to the LNG project, had been confirmed. Total said in a statement that “business continuity plans in place to ensure the impact to the project of an event like this is mitigated as much as possible…We are focused on critical activity including security, logistics and forward planning.” In a Foreign Policy News article Kate DeAngelis, international policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, raised concerns over the measures being taken by Total to contain the virus. Reportedly, Total had ‘at first refused to halt or even slow its work in northern Mozambique’, a failure to take early action that would have stemmed an increase in COVID cases. The virus would spread easily in camps housing thousands of fossil fuel workers in cramped quarters. Having placed the site ‘under lockdown’, it was unclear which activities had been halted on the Total site and what safety measures the firm had put in place to protect workers and nearby communities. De Angelis writes ‘Total’s delay in stopping activities and unclear plans for controlling the virus’s spread puts not only its workers, but also surrounding villages at unnecessary risk’. She points out that the host community has only scarce resources to manage COVID-19 and local health systems would likely be ‘strained beyond the breaking point’ if the virus spreads more widely in the area, arguing that fossil fuel companies should halt all work while the region works to contain coronavirus.
On 26th April 2020 National Director of Public Health, Dr. Rosa Marlene, stated that contact tracing had discovered five more COVID-19 cases in Mozambique, all workers at Total’s Afungi camp, taking the country’s total number of cases to 70. The following day five more COVID-19 cases among Total workers at Afungi were reported, with this being the only detected active transmission chain in the country. A further COVID-19 case, Mozambique’s 76th, was a child, the daughter of a resident of Pemba who contracted the virus from professional contact with a patient in Afungi. Director general of INS (National Institute of Health), Dr. Ilesh Vinodrai Jani, announced that almost 1,000 workers and subcontractors on the Afungi Peninsula would be tested, informing a press conference: “There is active transmission in the Afungi camps, and we need a process of mass testing, isolation and decontamination. It is a process that will take at least two or three weeks… and we will definitely see an increase in the number of positive cases.” Testing all Afungi workers for Covid-19 would not be possible as more than 2,000 people had left the Total camp since identification of the ‘index case’. This movement of workers meant that attempts to contain the outbreak within Cabo Delgado province would not be unfeasible. Concerns over continuing Afungi flights
On 8th May A Verdade reported concerns over possible risk of spreading infection from continuing flights, by Mozambican flag carrier LAM, between the Afungi LNG facility, epicentre of Mozambique COVID-19 outbreak, and Pemba, the capital city of Cabo Delgado province. Air passengers were Total workers leaving the Afungi site and health workers conducting tests at the camps. A Verdade reported that air crew operating these flights, five people including two pilots, were not subject to the screening tests and quarantine that applied to all citizens and that after each flight these crew stayed at a hotel in Pemba where they interacted freely with other people. National Director of Public Health, Dr. Rosa Marlene, stated that LAM crew “observe quarantine, depending on the time they have on land. We can guarantee that they are isolated and not in contact with other people, so as not to transmit the infection, but we will see what is happening and reinforce the measures if we are relaxing”. She informed a press conference “We will see what happened with the non-testing of the crews of Airlines of Mozambique, but testing is planned to ensure crew is not a source of infection”. A Verdade raised concerns that COVID-19 measures pertaining to aviation might be insufficiently stringent to contain the Afungi outbreak. A circular prepared by the Ministry of Transport and Communications made recommendations related to air transport including disinfection of shoes and hands, and temperature measurement, when boarding aircraft. In accordance with recommendations of health authorities cabin crew must wear masks during flights. But the circular did not specify procedures for transport of passengers considered to be at risk of COVID-19 infection, which was the case regarding Total workers at Afungi camps.
Continued increase in Afungi COVD-19 cases
The number of COVID-19 cases at Total’s Afungi oil facilities climbed to 59 by 11th May 2020. Samples had been collected from all of the 886 Total workers at three operational camps. Dr. Ilesh Vinodrai Jani explained that positive and negative cases would be identified and non-essential workers relocated to different areas according to risk. 415 workers would remain on site to ensure continuation of minimum services and be tested for COVID-19 every 10 days. Dr. Jani announced that transmission chains had been interrupted so, as the camp was closed, there was no reason for testing in the wider Afungi Peninsula. On 15th May it was reported that the 75th worker at Total’s construction camps on the Afungi Peninsula had tested positive for COVID-19. The patient was a 30-year-old woman and health officials said her low viral load indicated her infection had occurred several weeks previously and was in its final phase. The cumulative total of known COVID-19 cases in the country had reached 115 and a new outbreak of four cases had emerged in the District of Palma. Dr Sergio Chicumbe, National Director for the Health Survey and Monitoring Area, said it was “not possible to establish a direct relationship with the Afungi camp” but admitted that the transmission mechanism was not known. Three new cases in the Afungi Peninsula were reported on 17th May, all Total employees diagnosed in re-testing of the 415 individuals remaining at the camps maintaining minimum services in the Mozambique LNG project. The new cases brought the number of COVID-19 positive Total workers to 78.