Five years ago, Simon Nhumaio and his family were stranded on a rooftop. There was nowhere else to go. In January of 2013, catastrophic floods barreled through the lower Limpopo valley and other parts of southern Mozambique, leaving a trail of despair that claimed the lives of 113 people and displaced some 172,600 people.
Some villages were completely cut off, and others could only access roads by boat. Nhumaio’s community of Chókwè was hit particularly hard, and the painful memories are still fresh. “The water rose to 3 meters,” Nhumaio said. “We stayed [on the rooftop] until [local authorities] came to rescue us.”
Nowadays, however, he’s proudly – and literally – laying the foundation of a more resilient Chókwè.
Nhumaio is a worker employed by Mota Engil Mozambique, a private sector implementing partner of the Roads and Bridges Management and Maintenance Program (RBMMP). With a combined investment of nearly $110 million from the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) and the World Bank, this initiative is working to rehabilitate flood-damaged roads and vital infrastructure in the southern province of Gaza, where an estimated 70% of transportation networks have been impacted by floods.
The RBMMP is not only helping the country rebuild after successive catastrophes. It is supporting Mozambique’s efforts to build back better using climate-smart approaches that will better withstand future disasters. As part of the project, nearly 300 kilometers of roads and other vital infrastructure will be fitted with climate-resilient upgrades to spur economic growth and more firmly put 6.1 million rural Mozambicans on a resilient development path. One such upgrade is the use of geocells, or high-density plastic webbing, which more evenly distributes road stresses while reducing cracking and water seepage.
Roads are essential to short and long-term development, facilitating access to schools, markets, health clinics and other vital services.
Through CIF’s Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), CIF is also financing the development of a first-of-its-kind, country-appropriate set of road standards to improve climate resilience and long-term growth nationwide.
“I am very happy with what I’m doing here, particularly because I’m contributing to a road which is much better than it was before,” beamed Nhumaio. This work also provides a livelihood that has “significantly” bettered his life. “I’ve been able to improve my home. I am able to not only provide for my family but also send my kids to school.”
There are 60 locally employed staff at this site alone, of whom 18 percent are women. Epifania Nhumaia is a colleague of Simon’s who says the income she earns here supports her 6-month-old child and the reconstruction of her six-person family home, which was destroyed during the 2013 floods. Nhumaia is happy that she is working to prevent another catastrophe in her community.
Mozambique ranks third in Africa in terms of exposure to climate-related hazards and is the only country on the continent considered to be at high risk from each of the major climate hazards, i.e., droughts, floods and coastal cyclones. Annually, these hazards cost the country an average of 1.1 percent of GDP.
1,000 kilometers north of Chókwè is the coastal city of Beira, where poorly planned settlements and inadequate housing routinely fall victim to violent storms and recurrent flooding. With support from CIF and the World Bank, the city has implemented a range of measures to strengthen resilience to weather-related hazards, including the rehabilitation and construction of 11 kilometers of drainage canals, flood control stations and a large water retention basin.
These changes represent “the end of the suffering of a whole population,” said Daviz Simango, the mayor of Beira. He added that the investments made so far, notably the drainage system – which has reduced the city’s flood risk by 70 percent – were central to implementing the city’s resilience master plan.
Rural livelihoods are also acutely vulnerable to flooding. Three in four Mozambican farmers have lost crops, livestock or equipment to climate-related catastrophes. The consequences are devastating and can last a lifetime. A child born in a severe flood-affected area, for example, is more likely to be undernourished, drop out of school, and have trouble securing employment than a child raised under normal weather conditions.
In the flood-prone Baixo-Limpopo region, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and CIF have partnered to bolster crop production and improve the lives of some 8,000 farming families by offering training in climate-smart agriculture, introducing new climate-proofed seeds, weatherizing rural roads and irrigation systems, localizing processing and storage facilities, and expanding access to markets. The Baixo Limpopo Irrigation and Climate Resilience Project is showing successes that could serve as a model for other parts of Africa.
Filomena Alfredo Xandlala is a beneficiary of the project, and a farmer in the Chongoene District. Her community suffered mightily in the record-breaking floods of 2000. Families were cut off from aid and many residents died. For her part, Xandlala lost the entirety of her rice crop, and seeing no way to rebound, decided to abandon farming altogether. In the years that followed, she lived from hand to mouth, subsisting on nothing more than the support of an emergency aid program.
Fatefully, Xandlala, a grandmother to 18 children, learned of an opportunity to return to farming and be trained on sustainable agricultural practices. She and 479 other farmers enrolled in the CIF and AfDB-supported program, learning techniques that will allow them to grow crops in all seasons, rain or shine. Xandlala is now farming again, and she says the skills she has learned here – flood irrigation, maintaining water levels, weed control, and applying fertilizers – will improve her yields. She also appreciates the fact that unlike before, she no longer feels like she is farming all by herself.
Climate change will continue to take a heavy toll on Africa’s infrastructure, especially where appropriate adaptation and mitigation plans for roads and bridges, and agricultural systems are not in place. But Mozambique is showing that a more resilient future is not only possible, but already underway.