(November 2003) The lingering effects of a long civil war, climatic changes, and infectious diseases represent major threats to life in the southern African nation of Mozambique, where 17.5 million people live, the vast majority in rural poverty.

Close to two-thirds of Mozambicans are poor, with the incidence slightly higher in rural areas, according to the United Nations’ 2002 progress report on Mozambique’s millennium goals.1 The World Bank places per capita income at roughly US$226, compared with US$500 in Angola, another Portuguese-speaking country struggling to emerge from the effects of a much-longer civil conflict.2

The 16-year war in Mozambique that ended in a 1992 peace agreement between government and rebel forces was a huge setback for the population. Fighting destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, caused as many as 1 million deaths, and uprooted close to 6 million people, according to estimates by the U.S. Committee for Refugees.3

Situated along the Indian Ocean, Mozambique confronts other challenges. Extreme climate and weather conditions periodically affect life — as in the case of the 2000 and 2001 floods, which swept away health centers and affected drinking water, food, and shelter in parts of the country. More recently, drought has caused food crises in Mozambique and several other southern African countries.

These kinds of challenges have held back the country’s development. Mozambique placed close to the bottom of the 2003 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme, which ranks UN member states in terms of achievements in education, living standards, and life expectancy. Among 175 nations, only five others — Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Sierra Leone — performed worse than Mozambique.4

In many ways, progress is slower for women. Lower literacy levels make women particularly vulnerable to poverty. Even though the male-female literacy gap narrowed somewhat between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of men 15 years and older who can read and write is more than double that for women. Female adult literacy was 28 percent in 2000, compared with 60 percent for men. In 1990, it was 18 percent for women and 49 percent for men, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates in its State of the World’s Children 2003.5

Illnesses such as malaria also pose serious problems, particularly for pregnant women and their babies in a country where the average number of children per woman is close to 5. Malaria, associated with severe anemia in pregnant women and low birth weight in babies, contributes to illness and early-childhood death. The World Health Organization estimates that for every 100,000 children below age 5, more than 1,000 die of malaria, compared with slightly more than 70 deaths in much wealthier Botswana and fewer than 700 in Tanzania, Mozambique’s northern neighbor.6

Illnesses like malaria and HIV/AIDS are hacking away at some of the key measures of the population’s well-being. Estimates within sub-Saharan Africa show life expectancy varying between 75 years in the French territory of Réunion and only 34 years in Mozambique, according to PRB’s 2003 World Population Data Sheet.7 The estimate for Mozambique is well below the average of 48 years for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole and less than half the 76 years for people in more developed countries.

HIV infection in Mozambique has increased dramatically in recent years. Tests of pregnant women attending antenatal clinics in the capital Maputo show prevalence levels rising from less than 1 percent in 1988, to 9.9 percent in 1998, and to roughly 13 percent since 2000, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Levels are even higher outside Maputo. HIV prevalence among patients at clinics for sexually transmitted infections outside the capital was 37 percent for males in 1998 and 26 percent for female patients in 1997. UNAIDS estimates that 1.1 million adults and children were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2001, with HIV prevalence among adults ages 15 to 49 at roughly 13 percent.8


Indicator Data
Population Mid-2003 17,500,000
Population 2025 (projected) 17,500,000
Population 2050 (projected) 19,000,000
Infant Mortality Rate (infant deaths per 1,000 live births) 201
Total Fertility Rate (average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime) 5.1
Population Under Age 15 (%) 45
Population Over Age 65 (%) 3
Life Expectancy at Birth, Both Sexes (years) 34
Life Expectancy at Birth, Males (years) 33
Life Expectancy at Birth, Females (years) 34
Urban Population (%) 29
Population Ages 15-49 With HIV/AIDS at End of 2001 (%) 13
Contraceptive Use Among Married Women 15-49, All Methods (%) 5
Contraceptive Use Among Married Women 15-49, Modern Methods (%) 5
Government View of Birth Rate too high
Births Attended by Skilled Personnel (%) 44
Maternal Deaths per 100,000 Live Births 980

Sources: Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: PRB, 2003); and Justine Sass and Lori Ashford, Women of Our World 2002 (Washington, DC: PRB, 2002). All these data can be easily found in PRB’s DataFinder.

Yvette Collymore is senior editor at PRB.


  1. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Report on the Millennium Development Goals: Mozambique,” accessed online at www.undp.org/mdg/countryreports.html, on Nov. 18, 2003.
  2. World Bank, “Mozambique Country Brief,” accessed online at www.worldbank.org/afr/mz/ctry_brief.htm, on Nov. 18, 2003.
  3. U.S. Committee for Refugees, “Country Report: Mozambique (1997),” accessed online at www.refugees.org/world/countryrpt/africa/
    1997/mozambique.htm, on Nov. 18, 2003.
  4. UNDP, Human Development Report 2003 (New York: UNDP, 2003), accessed online at www.undp.org/hdr2003/pdf/hdr03_complete.pdf, on Nov. 18, 2003.
  5. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), The State of the World’s Children 2003 (New York: UNICEF, 2003).
  6. United Nations Statistics Division, Millennium Indicators Database, “Malaria Death Rate per 100,000, Ages 0-4 (WHO),” accessed online at http://millenniumindicators.un.org, on Nov. 18, 2003.
  7. Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: PRB, 2003).
  8. Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNICEF, and WHO, “Epidemiological Fact Sheets by Country,” accessed online at www.who.int/emc-hiv/fact_sheets/All_countries.html, on Nov. 18, 2003.