Mozambique to upgrade flood protection system

by Charles Mangwiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 6 August 2013 11:17 GMT

The road from Xai Xai to Chókwè in southern Mozambique, after it was hit by flooding in January 2013. TRF/Charles Mangwiro

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International climate finance will be used to help the flood-prone African nation improve its monitoring of rainfall and river levels

CHOKWE, Mozambique (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The road from Xai Xai to Chókwè, in southern Mozambique's Gaza Province, is still scarred by January’s floods, which left more than 70 people dead and hundreds of others homeless and impoverished.

The worst flooding in 13 years washed away bridges, as well as top soil, leaving the spindly crops now poking from the earth short of nutrients.

Reconstruction work has yet to start along the once-busy highway, which is strewn with rocks. A journey of less than 100 km takes several hours.

Locals living along the road say they do not know if assistance will arrive soon or how much damage the next floods will do when the rainy season comes again.

“I helplessly watched all my cattle disappear into the red sea of rushing floodwater while our family house was collapsing, leaving us with only the clothes on our backs,” said Rofina Mathe, a 51-year-old mother of five who earns a living from subsistence farming.

“Now we are wondering what the future has in store for us as the government has not shown any interest in helping us out,” she said.

Preparing Mozambique to deal with an expected increase in extreme weather is no easy task. But officials hope new funding of $91 million from the multilateral Climate Investment Funds' Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) will make a difference.

Since the floods early this year, the government has boosted the amount of Climate Investment Fund money it plans to allocate to improving hydrological and meteorological services to $15 million from $10 million. The Nordic Development Fund is providing a further $4.5 million.

Initial activities are planned for the Limpopo river basin, but they may be expanded to other basins affected by this year’s floods, including the Incomati and Licungo.

“It will be a big step (towards) climate resilience. We are moving towards investments where we want to prove that climate resilience is achievable,” said Xavier Chavana, co-coordinator of the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience at the Ministry of Planning and Development. “The funding is coming at the right time because people will learn and be able to deal with climate change.”

Other projects to be financed under the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience will integrate climate resilience into development efforts in agriculture, water and other resource management, coastal infrastructure development, roads and private-sector investments.

The CIFs are a $7.6 billion international financing mechanism to support low-carbon growth and adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

ECONOMIC RISK

Mozambique is regarded as a poster child for post-conflict economic recovery in southern Africa, after a 16-year war two decades ago cost almost 2 million lives, brought the economy to its knees, and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure.

Starting from this tough base, Mozambique has seen average annual economic growth rates of 5 percent since 1995. But it now faces a new challenge: its vulnerability to a changing climate.

The country is experiencing long dry spells, severe flooding, and more frequent and severe coastal storms – which are affecting its economic performance.

Weather and climate shifts could slow and even reverse progress on poverty reduction in recent years, according to Chavana. But the government cannot simply expect ever-more aid from international agencies, he added.

“What (we) need to do is to plan better the use of available resources, to have adaptation that takes (us) to resilience,” Chavana said, adding that the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience funding should be used as a “launch pad” for better management of climate change nationwide.

Susana Saranga, director of the National Water Authority, said her agency would like to improve its monitoring system to manage water, using modern technology to track remote areas in particular. It also plans to to build more hydropower stations and dams, and train people to make good use of available information.

The CIF-funded work is set to begin in the coming months, after the revised national budget is approved in August, and so has yet to make an impact on the ground.

But farmers in the agricultural district of Chókwè are keen to know how it will help protect their crops and property from floods, and enable more efficient use of water.

SAME PROBLEMS, OVER AGAIN

The area covered by the Chókwè Irrigation Scheme (CIS) in the Limpopo River Basin has suffered falling crop yields, mainly due to soil salinisation and poor water management.

“We don’t want to be dealing with the same problems each and every year,” said Soares Xerinda, the visibly worried chief executive officer of the Lower Limpopo Irrigation Scheme. “Right now we are busy with costly land-filling because the top soil was washed away by the floods.”

He said semi-arid climatic conditions have reduced the availability of water, amid rising floods and drought in the region.

“We want projects that can contribute to improving the livelihoods of poor rural farmers in this region through the provision of additional knowledge and pragmatic actions. The (flood) water is gone now and we are clueless as to what comes next,” Xerinda added.

Farmers in the neighbouring district of Chibuto also complain about a lack of resilience measures.

Salvador Mabuiango, father of the miracle ‘flood baby’ Rosita who was born on a treetop in the 2000 floods, lost his property in that disaster and has called for more government action.

“We need to be taught the best agriculture practices. I do not think it is enough to tell us that flood water is coming in two days. We should be able to live and plant in any situation,” he said.

“I have heard about the Climate Investment Funds on the radio and thought a new day had come for us. But we are still waiting to see what type of help will come our way, as we struggle even to have clean water to drink,” he added.

Chibuto District was the first part of the country to be hit by destructive floods in December 2012 after the onset of the rainy season two months earlier.

“At least we are safe, having shelter on high ground, but we are not sure what will happen to our crops down the valley because the early warning system is not always accurate,” Mabuiango said.

BETTER MONITORING

According to the Mozambique Red Cross Society, the magnitude of this year’s floods caught many off guard. Provincial Red Cross delegate Armando Djedge said work by local disaster risk management committees had been in vain. “We need to improve our monitoring system,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation in Xai Xai.

Nonetheless, this year’s flooding claimed far fewer lives than in 2000, when around 800 people died. Local, national and international aid agencies said they were better equipped to handle the devastation and humanitarian consequences this time around.

Government officials are now coordinating their efforts with aid workers, and early warning systems have been set up across Mozambique since the 2000 floods.

“The problem we face is the quality of information which finally reaches its destination following distortions along the way. There is room for improvement,” Djedge said.

The Pilot Program for Climate Resilience effort aims to upgrade seven meteorological stations and 52 hydrological stations this year. By 2015, those numbers should increase to 35 and 71 respectively.

There will also be policy reforms enabling hydrological and weather data and information to be shared among agencies responsible for data collection and its end users, including aviation and navigation services, farmers and disaster managers.

Mozambique certainly has its work cut out. Thirteen mighty rivers flow across southern Africa and through Mozambique before emptying into the Indian Ocean. The Limpopo separates South Africa from neighboring Botswana and Zimbabwe before cutting across Mozambique’s Gaza Province towards the sea.

It has been estimated that half the water flowing through Mozambique comes from outside its borders, meaning local officials are often reliant on the decisions made by their counterparts in neighbouring states when controlling their catchment areas.

Saranga, director of the National Water Authority, said the CIF money should also be channeled into infrastructure development and land-use policies.

“One of the things we can do is to raise the height of protection dykes and other resilience activities such as proper land use and resettlement,” she said.

Charles Mangwiro is a freelance contributor for the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Maputo, Mozambique, and covering climate change issues.

This article is part of a series funded by the Climate Investment Funds.

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