Beira: Mozambique’s second largest city is sinking | News

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Beira, Mozambique – Albano Joze, stares blankly at a group of fishermen casting their nets in shallow waters on the coast of the Indian Ocean, near Beira, Mozambique’s second largest city.

He kicks a lump of soil and shakes his head in frustration.

“I have been living here for more than 10 years but I have never seen this sea as violent as it is these years,” says Joze, an informal trader in the city, which is just a few metres above average sea level.

“One night I woke up to find all rooms in my house filled with water and most of my household property was destroyed”.

Most settlements in Beira, which is on the Mozambique Channel, are poorly planned and houses are badly built, leaving many at risk during floods.

Do you think our gods are angry? We hope this problem of floods will go away soon

Albano Joze, Beira resident

Daviz Simango, Beira’s mayor since 2003 and an influential politician, has previously claimed that water-borne diseases such as malaria, and even in rare cases cholera, pose a serious threat.

“Every year we are experiencing violent storms and floods which are making our lives difficult,” Joze says with a weary sigh. “We can’t move away from the sea because our lives depend on it, one way or another.”

He traverses the breadth and length of the coastal area in Beira selling an assortment of wares, mostly to fishermen.

“I’m not a fisherman but these fishermen are my customers and I can’t imagine leaving this place. How will I survive if I leave?

“Do you think our gods are angry at us for whatever reasons? We hope this problem of floods will go away soon”.

But the problem is not going away anytime soon.

Vendors sell different items to fishermen in Beira [Andrew Mambondiyani/Al Jazeera]

According to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), Mozambique – with its coastal cities slowly being swallowed by the rising sea level – ranks third among African countries most exposed to multiple weather hazards.

Home to some 30 million people, the southern African country suffers from periodic cyclones, droughts, floods, and related epidemics. 

Floods occur every two to three years, with higher levels of risk in the central and southern regions,” says GFDRR. “Climate change is likely to worsen current climate variability, leading to more intense droughts, unpredictable rains, floods and uncontrolled fires.

Data from the Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC) shows an increase in natural disasters in the country over the past 30 years.

Up to 60 percent of the population live in coastal areas, meaning large numbers are exposed to the rising sea level and other climate change extremes.

Houses have been destroyed by strong tidal surges in Beira [Andrew Mambondiyani/Al Jazeera]

Tropical cyclones build up over the Indian Ocean, sending in water that pummels coastal cities such as Beira and Maputo, Mozambique’s largest city.

Beira’s increasing population and poor infrastructure means the city is vulnerable to flood damage; some residential areas lie below sea-level.

The 19th-century city was designed to host no more than 30,000 people, but today more than 500,000 people live in Beira. Most struggle in poverty.

New developments

Simango, Beira’s mayor, says more than $100m is needed to make the city resilient to climate change.

But figures and plans do little to quell residents’ anger.

“Beira should have been far more developed than it is today,” says Rildo Rafael, who lives in the city.

Bento Saide, a smallholder farmer near Beira, says rising sea levels flood the land with salty water, rendering crops useless.

“We don’t have any idea what to do as the water is keeping on coming and destroying our crops,” he says.

Residents are worried about the rising sea level [Andrew Mambondiyani/Al Jazeera]

In an effort to save Beira, the city authority and private companies in 2014 drew up “Masterplan Beira 2035”, a climate-adaption initiative to be implemented over the next 18 years.

Peter Letitre is a project manager for the Netherlands-based company, Deltares, which helped draft the plan.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, he said there plan now involved “several new developments”, but failed to give any further details.

In 2015, he told Bulawayo24: “We foresee that some informal settlements have to be relocated to new areas. This is a complex process for which cooperation of the inhabitants is very important.” 

Entrepreneurs and private companies were needed to build houses in new residential areas, he said, along with new roads, drainage infrastructure and hotels.

“In other words, Beira waits for business people and companies [to support the implementation of the plan],” he said.

Simango, the mayor, did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment but has previously told media that projects to improve drainage were under way.

In an effort to reduce risk, an old lagoon has also been converted into a retention area. And city extensions have been planned in higher areas with lower risk.

Yet some believe the measures may still not be enough.

“If there is no proper planning, in 50 years, Beira will be destroyed,” says resident Rafael.

Barricades built to stop strong waves in Beira [Andrew Mambondiyani/Al Jazeera]

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