Mozambique has vast, unknown quantities of poorly managed, unserviceable ammunition that pose a risk of unplanned explosions at a munition site (UEMS) that would result in significant numbers of casualties and damage to infrastructure.
After the conflict with the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) ended, the majority of ammunition was collected into three main locations in Maputo, Beira and Nacala. These stockpiles are aging – while military grade ammunition is generally designed for around a 25-year shelf life, this ammunition is over 40 years old. It has not been maintained and stored correctly, and much of it lies open to the elements and is exposed to extreme weather conditions.
According to the Small Arms Survey database, between 1985 and 2008, Mozambique suffered nine UEMS resulting in 141 fatalities and 679 injured - but this is an underreporting of the number of incidents. The largest UEMS occurred on 22 March 2007, when an arms depot in Mahalizine in the capital city, Maputo, experienced a series of explosions. The blasts could be heard across the city, and windows were shattered up to nine kilometers from the site. At least 93 people were killed, and hundreds more were injured.
NPA has a long history of Mine Action and Disarmament activities in Mozambique. NPA completed its mine clearance programme in 2014, assisting Mozambique in declaring itself mine free in 2015. Since that time NPA has provided technical assistance in the field of ammunition management and destruction (AMD). In 2014-15, NPA provided technical assistance to the Forças Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique (FADM) for the disposal of Mozambique’s entire stockpile of cluster munitions, and returned in 2018 to conduct remedial risk mitigation measures.
In 2021 and 2022, through funding from the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), NPA has been supporting the FADM in the destruction of surplus and obsolete ammunition in two storage facilities in Nacala, with the aim of reducing the risk of an explosion in this highly populated, urban area. Such an incident would potentially kill hundreds, displace thousands, cause catastrophic damage and leave a long-lasting socio-economic problem for the region and the country as a whole. One of the storage facilities is at the port, which is a significant deep-water port for the east coast of Africa. In the vicinity there is also a power ship that provides electricity for the city and a bulk oil storage facility - if an explosion were to occur, these could lead to even further destruction.
In 2021, NPA and the FADM destroyed 202 tonnes of ammunition at the port facility, including the most hazardous items. This reduced the area that would be affected should an explosion occur, significantly reducing the potential damage, and meaning that 35,000 residents are no longer living in the danger area.
In 2022, NPA is continuing its work with the FADM in same location with the aim of destroying a further 300 tonnes of ammunition. As part of this activity, FADM personnel have been given basic training in the safe handling, transport and disposal of ammunition. It is anticipated that the port area will be completely cleared of ammunition by the end of the project.