The high-pitched sound of alarm sirens interrupts morning lessons at the community school in Xai-Xai, southern Mozambique. Students quickly but calmly evacuate their classrooms and are shepherded to safety by teachers wearing bright florescent vests.
The youngsters hold on to the shoulders of the child in front, forming an orderly file heading for the safety of higher ground. Officials from the National Institute for Disaster Management hand out water bottles as the students listen carefully to emergency instructions. Today it’s a drill - but next time it could save their lives.
Many of the children are too young to remember the last time Xai-Xai and the surrounding province of Gaza was devastated by floods. In 2013, the Oliphants and Limpopo rivers burst their banks after heavy rain, and many residents became climate refugees overnight. Bridges were washed away and the town was completely cut off. More than 100 people died and 200,000 made homeless.
“When it rains the water accumulates, and it has to find a way out,” says Chiduache Aderito Orjecuimica, a hydraulic engineer working with the local community. “If the rain keeps falling, it has to break through, and when it breaks, it causes enormous craters. That’s the beginning of erosion. So if we prepare for it, we can avoid the worst impacts. It’s one way of mitigating and adapting to climate change.”
“To be honest, the community doesn’t know much about climate change,” says Chiduache. “I tell them climate change starts from me, it starts from you. But if you take the right actions using the right methods then you can adapt to climate change.”
Further north in the coastal province of Nampula, many homes are not solid enough to withstand violent rainfall and flooding. Residents are being trained how to build using concrete and stone blocks instead of the traditional wooden construction.
“The main objective is to teach the community to build houses that can withstand heavy rains or strong winds, so they can continue to live in them,” says Ramiro Domingos, a planning and infrastructure technician. “The objective is to reduce the vulnerability of the community.”
The new houses have been allocated to vulnerable members of the community. “I feel great,” comments Julia Fransisco, an elderly resident of Mutucute. “I don’t get wet. It’s different from my previous house, I haven’t been flooded since I got here.”
The EU’s flagship climate change programme GCCA+ is focusing on building local climate change resilience through Mozambique’s National Sector Support Programme (PASA), part of the government’s five year plan to tackle climate change. The current phase, which runs until 2022, follows a successful €4.7 million programme which included the development of Local Adaptation Plans.
Paradoxically, Mozambique suffers both from too much and too little water - often in the same regions. The early flood warning system in Xai-Xai was installed after a series of intense tropical storms, but elsewhere it’s drought that is the problem - and that needs a different approach.
200 km north of Xai-Xai, Farmer Balbina Josenacie sits with a group of other women listening to a talk on growing drought-resistant crops such as cassava and sweet potato. After the training, they head to the fields for a practical session. “Sweet potatoes are drought resistant, they can survive without water for long periods, says Balbina, from Cocoluane in Imhambane province. “We were given the seeds and the help of an expert. The expert explained how best to plant the crop. Now we are less impacted by drought and the yields have improved.”
Drought is also a major concern for farmers in Gaza, despite the frequent flooding from the Limpopo river which runs through the province. As part of the Local Adaptation Plan, the village of Chitsuluine has installed two solar-powered water tanks for drinking and irrigation which serve more than 1300 people.
“Whenever the community got together for meetings, the complaints were always about the lack of water,” says village leader Efrainme Anslmocossa. “So we built two tanks. Everyone was involved - residents, children, teachers, livestock farmers. I really think it brings people together, it creates a sense of unity among them.”