Mangroves and mapping help Mozambique tackle climate change
By Adela Suliman
BONN, Germany - Mozambique not only has one of Africa's longest coastlines; it is also the final destination for at least nine transnational rivers.
That makes it a hostage to geography, says Manuel de Araujo, the mayor of Quelimane, a port city of 450,000 people that lies about 1,000 kilometres (623 miles) north of the capital Maputo.
The fact that 60 percent of the country's population lives along the coast adds to the challenges of managing climate change, he said in Bonn on Friday at an international conference on building resilient cities.
With frequent extreme weather threatening the delicate urban balance of Quelimane - most of which lies below sea-level - the population is extremely vulnerable to climate risks, he said.
"The city is easily flooded both from rain and from marine floods and tides - sometimes they all happen at the same time," he said.
In Quelimane, one solution involves restoring hectares of mangroves, which act as a nature-based solution against flooding, helping to stem the tide by preventing soil erosion.
"Mangroves are our first line of defence," Araujo said of the scheme, which is supported by the U.S. development agency USAID.
The project has a social dimension too: mangrove nurseries are planted in the poorest parts of the city, where residents, particularly women, manage and conserve the young plants.
High levels of poverty meant people were used to cutting down mangroves for cooking or building, he said.
But working with schools and religious leaders, and putting out a conservation message in the local language via radio, means the community now knows to protect mangroves.
"There is a political buy-in given that community members and leaders are involved in all stages of the restoration process," he said.
"This is very important as it brings ownership to the people."
A further 670 kilometres northeast of Quelimane is the popular tourist city of Pemba. Its mayor, Tagir Carimo, said nearly one-third of the city is vulnerable to climate threats such as flooding and soil erosion.
On the very day that Carimo was sworn in as mayor, Pemba was pummelled by heavy rain and flooding, the consequences of which he is still fixing.
One major effort by his city has been to use satellite imagery and local knowledge to map parcels of land and neighbourhoods at higher risks of climate effects, such as flooding, he told the conference in Bonn.
"The main gains are that from (maps) we can see properly what type of land we can use and advise people on which kinds of materials they should use to build houses, roads and so on," he said.
Whether building climate-proof homes or city-wide drainage systems, he said, the population now feels more secure knowing that they are developing land in safe or low-risk areas.
Mozambique is one of the world's poorest countries, with an average life expectancy of 58, according to the World Bank. That makes it ill-equipped to fund adaptation to climate threats, said Carimo.
"The main difficulty is how to provide long-term finance," Carimo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, particularly when short-term survival often seems more pressing.
However, Araujo noted, the two might soon merge: disasters cost Mozambique between 1 and 5 percent of GDP annually, with that figure set to rise due to climate change, he said.
Given the country's growing population and increased migration to its coastal cities, both mayors said a shift in mindset was needed from funders to allow climate change adaption and development to go hand-in-hand.