Misinformation blamed on Mozambique’s major boat accident

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Writes Charles Mangwiro

Maputo (MOZAMBIQUE) As twenty-four-year-old Rabia Joaquim Augusto, prepared to depart Lunga, news of a deadly cholera outbreak began circulating and everyone in the area panicked and ran to a boat and became agitated.

“When we heard about the cholera outbreak we all ran to that boat, amongst the group were many children and pregnant women. It was full and seemingly beyond its capacity before departing, and when it was hit by a giant wave, it capsized and sank. I saw those women and their children drowning because they could not swim”, Rabia Augusto narrated her ordeal after surviving an accident on a makeshift vessel that left 98 people dead off the Coast of Mozambique Island in the northern province of Nampula.

The victims are residents of the impoverished community of Quivulane, in the Administrative Post of Lunga.

Rabia Augusto, who is one of the 12 survivors, said she clung to a large basin she had carried into a boat before her father, who was also on board came to her rescue as she swum against sea waves.

The accident occurred between the administrative post of Lunga and the Island of Mozambique on Sunday, a day Mozambique was celebrating Women’s Day.

Since January, Mozambique has been battling to contain a deadly cholera outbreak in more than thirty districts in northern regions with the provinces of Nampula and Cabo Delgado being the most affected.

Over 43,000 cholera cases have been reported so far.

Authorities in Mozambique said the shipwreck was caused by bad weather but it was also overcrowded and not suitable to carry passengers.

President Filipe Nyusi, who visited the survivors in Lunga on Wednesday said the sinking of the boat that killed 98 people on Sunday, is the result of misinformation carried out by people with obscure interests.

Nyusi condemned the misinformation about cholera in Mossuril, asking Mozambicans to remain united to overcome the difficulties.

“The reason why they left en masse, we tried to find out, was not yet the time. Lunga does not have cholera to this day. We had the bad luck of 3 people who died in the area in the last two weeks, one of them was due to malaria and another 2 people had stomach pains that were not diagnosed as cholera here in Lunga.

“We also want to ask those brothers who like to talk a lot, like to threaten people, like to lie that there is anger, suck blood to stop, because they are now seeing the result”, Nyusi said.

Indeed, according to the administrator of Mossuril, Alfredo Machaieie, this was the reason why people panicked after hearing about the false Cholera outbreak that they ran to the boat taking whatever they could carry.

Mozambique’s Minister of Transport and Communications Mateus Magala acknowledged the extent of misinformation leading up to the incident, but bemoaned errors made in inspection.

He told a media briefing that if the maritime administration was up to its responsibilities, the damage would be minimized, which is why he assured that the government will work to determine its responsibilities as a result of restructuring so that a situation of this nature does not happen again.

The National Institute of the Sea (INAMAR) says safety measures are frequently not complied with on vessels sailing off the Island of Mozambique, because teams are unable to remain in place.

According to INAMAR, there are around 450,000 artisanal vessels in the country dedicated to fishing, some of which are believed to be venturing into passenger transportation as boat travel is a major means of transport in Mozambique due to the inaccessibility of roads.

However, INAMAR spokesperson, Leonild Chimarizene could not provide details on the accurate number of boats dedicated to passenger transportation at sea.

But he said new measures will be put in place given Sunday’s shipwreck.

“We will place automatic devices on boats as a way of improving supervision.

Given the characteristics of artisanal vessels themselves, this system is not suitable, but there is a process that we are already implementing to insert into artisanal vessels to measure and control their movement, we are already in the pilot phase in the northern province of Niassa”.

But misinformation will ream Mozambique’s biggest challenge given the high levels of poverty and illiteracy in many disadvantaged communities.

In January alone, a wave of misinformation about the causes of the disease resulted in the murder of at least three community leaders and the destruction of 50 homes in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.

According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, MISA-Mozambique chapter, combating misleading propaganda and disinformation, whether in the digital or offline world, is one of the greatest responsibilities of all, in this “post-truth” era in which people care little about factual information, valuing, on the contrary, their own beliefs

“Unfortunately, misinformation about the disease has not found a solution that matches its severity. Last Sunday’s event, on the Island of Mozambique, shows how this phenomenon, increasingly present today, has harmful consequences for life in society,” Says MISA in a statement.

Antrolopogist, Brazao Catopola, who also studied Communications in Health, said there are linguistic aspects that make communities confuse chlorine with cholera.

“Chlorine appears in a period when there is cholera, it is very easy to confuse chlorine with cholera. If we look at the linguistic i

He believes that there are flaws in the communication strategy of the Ministry of Health.

“We only appear to talk about chlorine with more intensity so that people change their behavior in December, January, and February. For the other eight months, there is no information. In other words, they received information during a period when there were problems, then that information disappears, and when it reappears, it will be in the condition of having to use chlorine, this is not the norm”,  Catopola said.

Sociologist Joao Feijao has a different thought. He understands that the population is outraged by the poverty and absence of the state and tends to ignore health campaigns.

“The problem of access to welfare resources is a problem of dignity. When we have an educated individual who comes from the city, with access to technology to end cholera, with per diem, car, food, and with a driver delivering something in a situation in which the state is rarely able to provide the necessary support to the population, there is a deep feeling of the state not doing anything for the population without any benefits”  Feijao said.

He continued: “So the thought is if we are here and have cholera and they (state) never did anything so now why are they coming to give us chlorine to help us, they never did anything before to help us and why are they doing this now? ”

Cabinet spokesman Filimao Suazi said the government condemns misinformation that resulted in the death of 98 people in a boat accident off the coast of Mozambique Island and it will intensify awareness campaigns.

“Together with the press, we (the government) will improve our communication mechanisms if we understand that something is failing. So there are community authorities, local and central authorities, who have not been missing from our cabinet meetings here every Tuesday”, he said after a Cabinet meeting on the causes of the shipwreck.