Mozambique’s most recently designated special economic zone (SEZ) in the town of Mocuba, in the central province of Zambézia, recently made the news for all the wrong reasons after heavy flooding in January washed away strategic infrastructure turning it into a “special crisis zone”, according to the mayor of the province’s capital.

An area of just over 50 hectares at Mocuba was designated a SEZ by government decree in May 2014. The area includes the site of a now defunct textiles factory complex, which has been designated a free industrial zone. According to Gazeda, the Mozambican government agency in charge of SEZs, the zone should be suitable for assembly plants, agro-processing, textiles and biofuels production, among other industries.

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Known by locals as “the place where all roads meet”, on January 12 this year it became, in the words of one Mozambican newspaper, “the place where all roads are cut” after a bridge forming part of the main north-south highway was swept away by a surge of water down the Licungo River, which also took out 10 electricity pylons and left the north of the country, including Mozambique’s first SEZ at Nacala, without power for four weeks. Another SEZ, covering an Irish-owned mineral sands mine further down the coast, was also cut off, with the mine’s operations only able to keep going thanks to a 10-megawatt generator.

fDi visited Mocuba at the end of January and found the Mozambican navy ferrying local villagers across the river in four boats, each with a capacity of about 10 people. The bridge remains unrepaired at the time of writing, while the power link was restored by means of temporary wooden pylons on February 9. Nearby, a temporary accommodation camp has been set up for thousands of locals whose homes were also taken by the water.

Manuel de Araújo, mayor of Quelimane, the port city which is the capital of Zambézia, told fDi the situation is “very bad publicity for Mocuba particularly, which is bad for the province because Mocuba is quite central”.

Ratings agency Moody’s said on February 9 that “the floods will delay further development in the recently established special economic zone in Mocuba”, something that will “likely dampen 2016 GDP” in Mozambique.

It should be noted, however, that Mocuba was not without its problems even before the floods. A report by Mozambican newspaper @Verdade in September last year found that the supply of potable water was insufficient even for the population already living there, and the zone was not supplied with electricity of sufficient voltage to support industrial processes.

Mozambique’s electricity deficit was described by the US Agency for International Development’s private-sector support programme in the country at the start of this month as perhaps “the biggest single constraint to economic development” there. Mozambique has grand plans for large-scale gas-to-power generation once offshore gas fields start pumping at the start of the next decade, but nearer-term solutions are badly needed.