Preparing for disaster in Mozambique

As world leaders meet in Copenhagen, an example of how planning can reduce the impact of climate change

When floods struck Mozambique two years ago, followed by a cyclone, over 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes.

The destruction was widespread. Farmland was deluged, energy supplies and roads were cut off and there was an urgent need for food, shelter and healthcare.

Yet the scenes that unfolded contrasted sharply with the events of seven years before. In 2000, unusually heavy rains saw riverbanks burst, sweeping away homes and livelihoods, and leaving many displaced. Then, when a cyclone hit the coast, the country descended into a humanitarian crisis.

In all, 800 people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. In 2007, the death toll was far smaller, at 29 people. Although the floods of 2007 were less severe than those of 2000, another factor explained the difference in the number of fatalities: in 2007, Mozambique was prepared.

Early warning

Following the catastrophic events of 2000, Mozambique's government, supported by DFID, worked to improve its mechanisms for dealing with disasters. The formation of the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC) was a key step in this process.

Well before the floods came in 2007, the INGC was putting measures in place to deal with them. An early warning system alerted the Institute in October to the likelihood of intense rains, and by December actions were being taken on the ground. Supplies of food and medical items were stockpiled, vulnerable people were evacuated to safer areas and a network of local centres was set up to coordinate emergency operations.

When the floodwaters began to rise, the effects were devastating, and the international community, including the UK, rallied to provide aid, but a crisis similar to that of 2000 was averted.

Rising temperatures

The lessons of the 2007 response must now be built on for the sake of Mozambique's future. Due to a combination of widespread poverty and its geographical location, the country is especially vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

Two-thirds (around 12 million) of Mozambique's people live along the coast and most of the rest live either in river basins or in desert areas. Very variable rainfall patterns mean floods and drought are frequent and, because of poverty, Mozambicans are exposed to the worst impacts of both.

As a result of global warming, over the next four decades temperatures in Mozambique could rise by as much as 2.5 degrees Celsius. Rainfall patterns too are set to change, with rains becoming even more variable, increasing the threat of floods and food shortages. Drought and cyclones are likely to strike with greater force. In 20 years' time, rising sea levels will present a major threat to Mozambique's coast.

A national disaster management strategy is crucial if Mozambique, and countries like it, are to prepare for the extreme weather they face. If governments work closely with humanitarian organisations and communities, human suffering can be reduced when disaster strikes.

Much has been achieved in Mozambique to better manage disaster risks, but the focus must not slip. DFID supports the efforts of international organisations operating within Mozambique, and the work of the government itself, to develop practical ways to better manage disasters and ensure that the catastrophic events of 2000 are never repeated.

Facts and stats

- Between 1956 and 2008, Mozambique suffered 10 droughts (killing over 100,000 people), 20 floods (killing 1,921 people) and 13 tropical cyclones (killing 697 people). Many millions more were affected by these disasters.

- DFID is currently providing =A33.2 million funding to the INGC and international organisations to reduce the impacts of disasters in Mozambique. Organisations include the World Bank, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), Christian Aid and Save the Children.

- DFID provides around =A38 million annually to multilateral and non-governmental organisations focussed on improving national and local disaster management capacities.

- DFID also invests 10% of its humanitarian response budget in national and local disaster management capacity.