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The World Bank

Perceptions of environmental risks in Mozambique:
Implications for the success of adaptation and coping strategies

Policy Research Working Paper 4417

Anthony G. Patt1 and Dagmar Schrцter2

The World Bank
Development Research Group, Sustainable Rural and Urban Development Team

November 2007

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In early February 2000, heavy rains started to fall across much of southern Africa, hitting southern Mozambique the hardest. On 9 February the capital of Mozambique, Maputo, was flooded, with slums in the peri-urban areas hardest hit, and the road north to Beira underwater. The rains continued, and on 11 February the Limpopo River, north of Maputo, broke its banks, contaminating the water supply and bringing dysentery to the local population. The worst came on 22 February when Cyclone Eline hit the Mozambique coast near Beira, with winds of 260 km/h and torrential rains. Eline worked its way inland, dropping huge quantities of water on the Limpopo River catchment area. That water followed its way down the Limpopo River valley, and on 27 February flash floods occurred in the Gaza Province of Mozambique, arriving suddenly and burying the low-lying farmlands in the ChСѓkwe and Xai Xai Districts under four to eight meters of water. Residents climbed trees and rooftops, but with only a few boats and less than a dozen helicopters available to evacuate over 100,000 people, over 7,000 of them were stranded in trees for several days. Eight hundred people died, hundreds of thousands were left homeless, and two million were affected. Over 90% of the irrigation systems in Mozambique were lost. In the immediate aftermath of the floods, losses were estimated at $273 million in direct costs, and $428 million in optimal standard reconstruction costs (World Bank, 2000).

In the months following, after the waters receded, the government and the aid community began to ponder how to prevent such a disaster from recurring. It had been the worst flood in 50 years, but there was concern that climate change could have contributed to it, meaning that the time until the next flood would be less. It was clear that something needed to be done to reduce the vulnerability of the farmers living in the fertile Limpopo River floodplain from Chуkwe to Xai Xai, who were hardest hit. In addition to emergency assistance to help most farmers move back to their houses and begin farming again (USAID, 2002), policy makers began working on several longer-term ideas. First, they decided to distribute hand-crank radios to farmers, through which they could hear early warning information, such as a new color code system for cyclones. Second, they provided technical assistance to farmers to help them make their dwellings more resilient, such as by constructing granaries in the treetops, so that they would not lose all of their food and their seed from the next flood. Most ambitious was a voluntary resettlement program, planned and executed by the Ministry of Environmental Affairs (MICOA) and the Ministry of Public Work and Housing (MOPH) at an estimated cost of $13 million (World Bank, 2000). The government built entire villages, equipped with modern services such as electricity, in the hills overlooking the floodplain, for those living in the areas most prone to future flooding (Government of Mozambique, 2000; Mozambique News Agency, 2001). Farmers could farm in the scrubby land around the villages, or else walk or bicycle to their fields in the floodplain. At the time, the government admitted that the success of such a voluntary program was “hard to project”, since the fertile deposits in the floodplain would attract people back to the low-lying areas, though they hoped that people would indeed choose the “risk-reducing” option of the resettlement areas (World Bank, 2000).

Since there has not been a catastrophic flood in the Limpopo River valley since then (FEWS-NET, 2007), it is too early to tell whether the radio and resilient housing programs have succeeded.3 The resettlement program, however, has failed. After a few months living in the new houses, farmers began to return to the floodplain to farm, and rebuilt their dwellings in their old villages. The government then encouraged them to maintain two homes: temporary ones near the fields, where they could live for several days at a time, and permanent ones on higher ground, where their families would stay, and where they would keep their possessions. But that too failed. The farmers wanted to live in the floodplain, and very few of them maintain households in the new dwellings that had been built for them.

This was not the first floodplain resettlement program to have failed. There have been many such schemes in Asia, and while a few success stories exist, in general “this mitigation measure has proven to be less successful, costly, and economically, politically, and socially insensitive” (ADPC, 2005, 100). It is also not the only type of policy to help people adapt to the threat of climate change, and climate variability, for which the implementation has been poor. Ironically in the Limpopo Valley a threat at least as big as flooding is of drought, especially in El Niсo years (Arndt et al., 2003). There, as in many parts of southern Africa, the government and civil society have developed policies and practices to develop timely seasonal forecasts, to communicate these forecasts to potential “users”, and to recommend a shift away from water intensive maize toward more drought tolerant seeds (International Research Institute for Climate Prediction, 2000; NOAA, 1999; O'Brien and Vogel, 2003; Unganai, 1998). But these policies rely on the assumption that farmers will actually use the forecasts. Again, while there have been some success stories, in general few subsistence farmers have made use of the forecasts, and most continue to plant maize, which requires more water than alternatives such as millet or sorghum (Suarez and Patt, 2004), but which also can be more productive when the rains are good, and which commands a higher market price.

A common factor in these difficulties implementing policies is the failure of the people who are most vulnerable to change their behavior in ways that policy makers think they should. There are three questions that arise. First, to what extent is it important that citizens support adaptation policies? Second, why might people not support such policies? Third, what can be done to increase the willing participation of people in adaptation policies? In this paper we examine these three questions in general, but focus our attention on the second. We report on an empirical case study in the ChСѓkwe District of Mozambique to support the conclusion that different perceptions of relative risk can account for the lack of popular support for adaptation policies. There are good reasons, based in behavioral economic theory, to suspect differential risk perception.

  1. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Boston University, .
  2. Austrian Environmental Agency, .
  3. Based on evidence from the Zambezi River valley, however, there is reason to believe that new programs are helping. In early 2007, the worst floods since 2000 hit central Mozambique. While over 130,000 have been left homeless, there have not been reports of widespread loss of life, suggesting that early warning efforts have been successful (FEWSNET, 2007).

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