Mozambique: Climate change adaptation can't wait

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 28 May 2009 (IRIN) - A detailed study of the effects of climate change on Mozambique has confirmed what many experts feared: unless immediate action is taken, the country will be overwhelmed by the impacts of cyclones, floods, droughts and disease outbreaks.

"I am alarmed by many of the findings presented in this study," said Ndolam Ngokwe, the UN resident coordinator in Mozambique, at the launch of the INGC Climate Change Report by Mozambique's National Disaster Management Institute (INGC) in the capital, Maputo, on 25 June.

"Climate Change is a massive threat to human development and in some places it is already undermining the international community's efforts to reduce extreme poverty," he said.

Mozambique, already more frequently and severely affected by natural disasters than virtually any other country in Africa, would have to adapt to a changing reality, Ngokwe warned.

Zooming in for a better picture

The study combined historical climate data from various Mozambican weather stations with global climate projections, and together with anticipated socio-economic developments, developed scenarios and identified adaptation measures for reducing vulnerability.

Michel Matera, the Crisis Prevention and Recovery Programme Manager and head of the Environment Unit at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Mozambique, said this was the first time global climate-change models had been downscaled to country level in this way. "What you see immediately is that the impact is not homogeneous - it's different throughout the country. You get a better [picture]," he told IRIN.

The overwhelming changes to come

"The exposure to natural disaster risk in Mozambique will increase significantly over the coming 20 years and beyond," the report noted. In the event of poor global mitigation results - the "too little, too late" scenario - temperatures in Mozambique could rise by as much as two degrees Celsius to 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, and by 5 degrees Celsius to 6 degrees Celsius by 2090.

Rainfall variability would increase, the start of the rainy season would likely shift, flood risk would be higher, and the centre of the country would suffer more intense cyclones and droughts.

"Up to approximately 2030, more severe cyclones will pose the biggest threat to the coast; beyond 2030, the accelerating sea level rise will present the greatest danger," the report said.

There was not much data available on sea level rise along the Mozambican coast, but the available evidence suggested global trends could be applied, leading to a 10cm to 20cm rise by 2060, mainly as a result of the sea water expanding as it became warmer.

Erosion could push the 2,700km coastline inland by around 500m; with around 12 million people - 60 percent of the population - living in coastal areas, this was "a scenario likely to be catastrophic for Mozambique."

A lack of long-term data sets made it difficult to apply models to quantify the potential impact of climate change on disease risk, but "warmer temperatures may extend the range and prolong the seasonality of transmission of vector-borne diseases, especially malaria," the report noted. Mozambique is among the top ten nations affected by malaria, causing between 44,000 to 67,000 deaths annually.

Less rainfall upstream in Zimbabwe and Zambia could translate into significantly decreased river flows in Mozambique, while lower rainfall in the Zambezi River Basin could severely reduce energy output from the Cahora Bassa dam, a crucial power source for the country and the region.

Sink or swim

"Projections are that Mozambique won't be able to face the threat posed by climate change if nothing changes. A better understanding is needed to inform future planning," Matera warned.

The report was an essential first step towards a broader vision and a strategy for the national response to climate change. "Adapting to climate change is not only the business of the ministry of environment or the INGC," Matera said. The whole government and development partners would have to be involved, and responsibilities should be clearly defined.

"It is vital that the government is made aware of this and acts now to incorporate climate change risks in its infrastructural planning and investments, and establishes a national response plan to climate change," the report said.

"The extent to which the vulnerability of Mozambique will increase with increased exposure [to climate change] depends on its adaptive capacity. This in turn depends in large part on the socio-economic and technological development trajectory Mozambique will take, and on the adaption measures, i.e. protection and planning it will put in place in the coming five to 10 years."

The report suggested that INGC upgrade its emergency response planning "well beyond current preparedness levels" to deal with climate change risks.

Other recommendations included setting up a system to integrate information on the anticipated climate hazards, and the related physical and social vulnerabilities.

Adaptive capacity might improve by mid-century to the extent that vulnerability decreased to below current risk levels - excluding the extreme scenario of polar ice melts, of which the timing and impact were unknown - the report suggested optimistically. "The key issue is one of timing: Mozambique cannot wait."