Geopolitical and Economic News and Analysis

MOZAMBIQUE: Co-existing With Floods

Global Geopolitics Net Sites / IPS

Marshall Patsanza

GABORONE, Apr 22  (IPS)  – April signals the tail end of the flood season in Mozambique. The country’s water managers will soon be able to appraise the effects of changing policies.

Each year, the many major rivers that flow through Mozambique on their way to the Indian Ocean – the Pungwe, the Limpopo, the Zambezi – swell with rain and burst their banks during the November-April rainy season. In 2001, the flooding killed around 700 people and displaced up to 500,000 others.

Mozambican water and disaster management experts attending a workshop for river basin organisations in Gaborone on April 20-21, told IPS that they have begun shifting their approach to the annual flooding in terms of helping those in low-lying areas to find a profitable co-existence with the water.

”Floods will always be there and it is time we start living with them and looking for ways in which they can benefit us,” said Olinda Costa Sousa, director of the goverment’s water management agency for the southern part of the country, ARA-SUL (Administração Regional de Áquas do Sul).

Flood management has traditionally focused on reducing the occurrence or severity of floods in settled areas but Mozambique’s regional water bodies are exploring alternatives. But the high waters also spread nutrients across flood plains, and recharge wetlands in which fish thrive. This attracts people to live near rivers where their homes may be in danger.

”Realising that floods are dangerous is important for the local inhabitants, but at the same time educating them on how to utilise the positive attributes such as good fertile soil and rich fishing resources are some of the things the government is trying to impart on the river basin inhabitants,” said Sousa.

Sergio Sitoe, from the Limpopo Basin Commission’s Interim Secretariat explains further. ”As a measure trying to balance between harnessing the positive effects of flooding and managing the effects of floods the Department of water in Mozambique is trying to initiate plans to allow local river basin inhabitants to co-exist with floods since the issue of flooding is perennial.”

To ensure that people settled on floodplains the river basin are aware of the pros and cons of their location, the country has set up disaster management committees at local level to help educate people on how to protect themselves while taking advantage of the benefits.

Solutions

This includes encouraging villagers to have two homes – one near farms or fishing on the river’s edge, and another settlement on higher ground that will remain above the water line even in wet years.

In other areasm where the flooding is not as severe, the inhabitants are encouraged to build elevated houses which will allow water to flow beneath them without being swept away.

”If we encourage people to stay on flood plains we have to educate them on how to react to warning systems and to locate the escape routes in which they can use to evacuate to safe ground when the water levels rise in the rivers,” said Helio Banze, director of Umbeluzi-Maputo basins.

There is no single recipe for organising effective community participation for flood management and it is also up to the inhabitants to realise that their safety is paramount and that the floods are very dangerous.

Although this might seem obvious, there are many people who refuse to move away from flood-prone areas due to cultural reasons and beliefs. ”These are the people who are often killed by the floods because they completely ignore the warning systems,” Sitoe said.

”Another obstacle to effective flood management is that most of the settlers view their livestock as a symbol of economic wealth, and they will not move to higher ground because their animals will not be able climb the steep slopes,” said Banze.

But the biggest challenge are the inhabitants who have lived in flood plains and have survived floods, explained Cacilda Machava, director of the water management agency for the Zambezi in Mozambique.

”These people believe that they have become resilient to floods and will not react to any warning systems and the biggest fear the disaster management teams have is that the next flood will be bigger and could destroy them.

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