MARUHUBI, Zanzibar (Thomson Reuters Foundation) –Zanzibar has begun relocating coastal families on the island of Pemba who are facing inundation from worsening high tides.
According to Sheha Mjaja Juma, director of the Department of the Environment in Zanzibar, 10 coastal families from Mijini Kiuyu who have seen their houses repeatedly flooded are being gradually relocated.
“Their homes have become uninhabitable during prime high tide,” Juma said. The government has instructed regional officials to provide 10 plots of land as a resettlement package, he said.
Another location in Pemba North region, the Mtambwe Mkuu atoll, will be the next relocation target, he added, with 25 households to be moved over the next three years.
Government maps suggest that the entire coast of Pemba, Zanzibar’s second largest island, is facing threats from encroaching saltwater.
The relocations follow a report in early 2013, in a local Kiswahili newspaper, that some villagers in Mjini Kiuyu, with a population of around 3,000, were being made homeless by encroaching saltwater.
Zuhura Msabaha, a government information officer and resident of Pemba, said the villagers were largely fishermen who settled there without realising just how low-lying were the plots they had chosen for their mostly mud houses with palm-thatched roofs.
The government has now completed profiles of four tide-affected sites as part of plans to mitigate further intrusion of seawater and reclaim lost land at Kilimani and Bwawani in Zanzibar Municipality, and Tumbe and Kisiwa Panza in Pemba North and South Regions, respectively.
The projects will include construction of groynes, dykes and sea walls to curb erosion and check waves, and will be funded by the Global Environmental Facility, which has allocated slightly over $3 million to Tanzania.
There are differences in public opinion in Zanzibar as to whether Mjini Kiuyu and other inundated areas are suffering the effects of climate change impacts, or of longstanding environmental malpractices in some parts of the coastal communities, such as mangrove felling, over-extraction of sand, and tree cutting to manufacture charcoal.
But Juma said the region has plenty of “climate change indicators”, such as changing rain patterns, more seawater intrusion into groundwater and springs, coral bleaching and rising sea levels.
The recently launched Zanzibar National Climate Change Strategy, backed by the United Nations Development Programme, noted the intrusion or inundation with saltwater in 148 coastal areas on Unguja Island alone. The island is Zanzibar’s largest.
Saltwater inundation has affected beach resorts, trees, farms, rice paddies, graveyards and homes. The majority of islanders earn low incomes, making it financially difficult to repair damaged homes.
Saltwater is also affecting catchment areas like the Mwanyanya and Bububu springs which supply drinking water to towns and which are themselves suffering from increased population pressure.
Observers say Zanzibar is the victim of its own geographical features. Its coastal land lies for the most part not far above sea level, making it vulnerable to rises in sea level, and to high tides and erosion.
A study on the economics of climate change in Zanzibar, published in July 2012 and co-sponsored by the Global Climate Adaptation Partnership and the UK’s Department for International Development, reported that climate change is contributing to the need to relocate the villagers from coastal areas.
“Along with increasing wind speeds on the Islands, there have been increases in wave (sea surface) heights and high water levels,” the report’s authors wrote. That suggests that wave patterns “may be changing, and increasing wave activity could be a factor in enhanced coastal erosion, especially in shores which lack natural protection”.
However, the report attributed at least some coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion to the destruction of mangrove trees and over-extraction of groundwater by islanders.