Page last updated at 21:12 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Rising sea levels: A tale of two cities

By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Maputo, Mozambique

Ana Tembe and children

When Ana Tembe looks out to sea from her tiny straw shack, she knows she is living on borrowed time.

She is almost surrounded by water, and at least once a year it seeps through the cracks into her home. Year by year the problem is getting worse, and Ana is worried.

"I want my children to be safe," she said. "We really need to relocate somewhere else, but we've got no money and no choice."

Mozambique's government is trying to help people like Ana Tembe, who are not only in abject poverty, but are also at risk from floods, rising sea levels and coastal cyclones - all of which are caused or exacerbated by climate change.

Numerous studies have been commissioned, carefully detailing the problems the country faces, and suggesting ways to combat these problems or adapt to the new reality.

Erosion on the coast

Mozambique is widely cited as one of the countries most affected by climate change - and one of the key concerns is rising sea levels.

The country has one of the longest coastlines in Africa, stretching 2,700 km (1,650 miles). About 13 million people live in coastal areas, and even more live in river deltas.

"Mozambican people are already suffering," said Environment Minister Alcinda Abreu. Climate change will affect "their living conditions and also their dignity", she added.

Making a start

Compared with other poor countries, Mozambique is often lauded as a nation that has engaged with the issue of climate change and is trying to do something about it.

But while a lot of work has been done on paper, far less has been done on the ground.

Of the few projects already under way, one of the most obvious is a large embankment just north of the capital, Maputo, which the government has constructed in order to protect a main road.

Environment Minister Alcinda Abreu
Developed countries have responsibilities, and we expect these countries to assume such responsibilities in Copenhagen
Environment Minister Alcinda Abreu

Further down the coast, the oldest and most established slum area, Mafalala, has been equipped with a large drainage channel, preventing annual flooding and the knock-on effects of disease and destitution.

"We know how serious climate change is, and we're trying to do our best to find solutions," said Councillor Mario Macaringue, one of the main instigators of these projects.

But he admits these interventions are just scratching the surface of the problem.

"We're trying lots of different things because we weren't prepared for so many changes in such a short space of time," he said.

Realistic possibilities

Some of these solutions have proved far too expensive to sustain. As I walked up the coastal road, for example, I found that the new embankment quickly petered out.

"It's made of concrete, and we were paying about $1,000 per metre," Mr Macaringue said. "We need to find a cheaper alternative."

If keeping people's homes safe from the rising waters is not an option, another possibility is to move them to higher ground.

The government has already started relocating people - mainly as a result of the exceptionally large floods in 2000. But to move a family like Ana Tembe's, the government needs to provide more than just a house, the people need a livelihood as well.

Given that most people fish or farm for a living - and the best place to do that is by a river or the sea - it is hard to find a suitable area which is any less vulnerable as the area they have just left.

Embankment near Maputo
Concrete embankments are too expensive to use in most areas

If people cannot make a living, they become dependent on aid or move back again, leaving their new homes empty - as has already happened in some areas of Mozambique.

"Relocating people is difficult, and generally very expensive," said Matthias Spaviolo from UN Habitat, the United Nations agency for human settlements.

Impossible task?

All this is a big challenge for a country still recovering from a civil war, the devastating floods of 2000, as well as a series of cyclones and droughts.

Professor Antonio Queface, one of the authors of a national report on the impact of climate change, says there are some things Mozambique can do alone.

"One of the key things we can do is monitor land use. We can avoid building more dwellings in areas at risk," he said.

"The other thing is education, so people know what risks they run."

New drainage channel in Mafalala slum area
Maputo councillors have installed a new drainage channel in Mafalala slum

But he added that other solutions would simply not work without substantial investment in infrastructure - something the West would need to help with.

Ms Abreu agrees. "What we need is more resources - in terms of financial resources, the transference of technologies and building a national capacity to deal with the issues provoked by climate change," she said.

Mozambique is going to the Copenhagen climate summit next month to lobby for these things - as part of a united African delegation determined to win compensation for the damage caused by global warming.

"Developed countries have responsibilities," said Ms Abreu, "and we expect these countries to assume such responsibilities in Copenhagen."

Her opinion is echoed on the streets of Maputo.

"The world is like a family," said Atanasio Muchanga, who lives near the sea just north of the capital, and has noticed the changing water levels.

"In our culture, those who can do more in a family should contribute more than the others - so it's obvious that other countries should do more to help us."

For people like Ana Tembe, that help cannot come soon enough.

map of Maputo (courtesy of the National Institute for Disaster Management)

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific