Sixty two-year-old Luciano Mangaeao of Paranora in Beira, Mozambique could not hide his fear.
He wiped his sweaty brow with the back of his hand on a sweltering afternoon and remarked dejectedly: “It’s almost rain season and I know what it means for us. It means a season of suffering; floods and storms are coming again.”
Though he has lived with his family in Paranora on the coast of the Indian Ocean for over three decades, the extreme weather events experienced in Beira over the past decade have left him and other residents at their wits’ end.
Beira, a colonial city that sprouted in the 19th century, was originally designed to accommodate 30,000 people, but today it is Mozambique’s second largest city with a population of more than 500,000. The city is a critical gateway to the sea for landlocked countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, but many of the residents live in abject poverty.
Experts say that tropical cyclones build up over the Indian Ocean and send water surging into Beira, inundating residential and poverty-stricken areas, many of which are below sea level. Within hours, the drainage system backs up, evacuation routes are cut off, and fecal material seeps into the fields and the food chain, even contaminating drinking water.
Figures from the Mozambican government reveal that between 1980 and 1993, two category three or higher cyclones hit the country, compared to seven in the period between 1994 and 2007.According to a 2013 report,Assessing the Risk of Cyclone-Induced Storm Surge and Sea-level Rise in Mozambique, wind risks in Beira are much higher than in the capital, Maputo. Maputo is more effectively shielded by the Madagascar land-mass, which also tends to dissipate cyclone energy, so the probability of intense wind events is much higher in Beira.
“During the rainy season some parts of Beira experience massive flooding and we are forced to abandon our homes and move to higher areas inland. We lose property worth thousands of dollars each season but because our lives depend on the sea we have no choice but to return after the floods,” Mangaeao said.
Some buildings have been abandoned for good and are left to slowly crumble. A deserted government building stands close to the sea, so are many others including shops and beer halls. Roads have been also been destroyed.
The crudely built stone, sack and sand sea walls tell a story of poverty as Beira struggles to adapt to climate change-induced calamities. Some of the sea barricades have succumbed to tropical cyclones and storms. Other parts of the barricades are slowly receding into the rising sea water.
The extreme weather events in Beira are beyond the comprehension of many, with some residents convinced that the apocalyptic end is nigh.
“No one is telling us what is happening but from the stories we hear on television the future does not look good for us,” Mangaeao said.
His fears were shared by Luiza Ferenando, an illiterate middle aged woman who lives in Storire, a neighborhood in the city.
“My life depends on fishing and I can’t leave this place. I have no other opportunities outside this area,” she said.
Thirty four-year-old Eduardo Fuinouto has been living in Paranora for sixteen years, selling different wares to the fishermen in Beira.
“When storms come our businesses come to a halt and we move to higher grounds. But our future is here and we hope our mayor will do something to serve our city and our businesses,” Fuinouto said.
Faustino Estacha, a twenty three-year-old university student, also remains optimistic that the mayor of Beirahas bigger plans to save the city.
“One of these plans is to build a sea wall which can save our homes,” he said.
He added: “People have nice homes and they can’t just leave but the barricades which used to be here have been destroyed by the sea water.”
According to Bill McKibben, a U.S.-based climate activist and founder of 350.org, some communities facing rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions have no choice but to leave for good.
“Building sea walls is an option, but very expensive. The frustration is that the world seems not care. It’s a very depressing situation and some people (living on coastal areas) have to pack their bags and go,” McKibben said.
In the face of this growing threat, Graca Machel, a human rights activist and member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights,urges coastal countries to develop programs to better assist these vulnerable regions.
“Countries on coastal areas should come up with policies on how to protect communities or encourage the people to move a little further from the coast,” Machel said.
The mayor of Beira, Daviz Simango, said more than 100,000 residents living in low lying areas in the city will have to be relocated to higher areas in the next decade.
He was quick to add that the city needed more than US$100 million to address climate change-induced problems, an amount that he said the city could not raise without the intervention of the private sector.
A Dutch engineering firm, Deltares, is working with other private companies like Witteveen +Bos, Wissing, Niras Mozambique and VandenBroek Consulting to partner with the city of Beira to develop a so-called Beira Master Plan 2035 and avert a full-on climate change disaster.
“Two important initiatives in this respect are: capacity building and institutional strengthening focused on the planning and enforcement capacity of municipality and the establishment of the Beira Land Development Company,” Simango said.
Simango said the Land Development Company, which will be a partnership between the city and private investors, will assist in the implementation of a new finance model where financial feasibility of the Beira Municipality and of the masterplan is increased through several business cases.
“The selling of dredging sand and the selling of land with road and drainage infrastructure are important income generating elements of this finance model,” Simango said.
Deltares senior project manager Peter Letitre said they would establish a land development company through an initial investment of up to US$20 million.
“A reasonable starting budget would be around US$10- $20 million. Planning capacity and financial means need to be mobilized. Besides, a better (win-win) cooperation between City and Port of Beira is very important for the economic growth of the Port and the City”.
According to this ambitious plan, the city needs to stop uncontrolled issuing of land to developers especially in areas which should be designated for water retention.
There is also a need to plan, zone and enforce land reserved for important future infrastructure projects like retention basins, drainage canals, sewage lines and roads. Assessments of the potential vulnerabilities of vital infrastructure – such as power lines, roads and railways – to flooding, and repairs of these weaknesses must also be conducted.
But significant obstacles to the implementation of such plans remain.
Land regulations in Beira are poorly enforced, which contributes to fragmented urban development. Here, speculators purchase property at low prices with the hope of later turning a profit, and are not willing to give it to the government for infrastructure projects. Because there is no incentive for these private developers to work alongside government plans, sustainable development in Beira remains just out of reach.
Letitre said the government must play a critical role in designating and enforcing reserved spaces for important future projects.
“This is a complex process for which cooperation of the inhabitants is very important. Ordinary people (in Beira) are also involved in planning of various projects such as the drainage projects in various neighborhoods, in cooperation with the authorities. They are also involved in operation and maintenance of drainage projects and solid waste projects,” Letitre said.
Despite these hurdles, Letitre remains bullish on Beira’s future. “After the master plan is successfully implemented,” he said, “Beira will be a safer, more sustainable, prosperous and beautiful city.”
These are hopeful words, but one thing is certain: successful implementation of the Beira Master Plan will require the participation of key stakeholders in the city or risk facing the same fate as similar plans that have come before it.