The city of Beira – Poor people becoming more resilient against floods

Mozambique is facing increasing threats from weather events and climate change could aggravate the situation in the future. Coastal areas are especially affected, mainly by rising sea levels and stronger tropical cyclones. In coastal cities like Beira, densely populated suburbs with informal townships of poor families are especially exposed to natural hazards.

Beira is the second largest city in Mozambique, with approximately 450,000 inhabitants. It has been facing increasing environmental stress and natural hazards over the last decades. Population explosion, mainly driven by the immigration from rural areas, is one driving factor. In fact, the population has almost doubled since 1980. These new neighbourhoods were mainly built in swamp areas close to or below sea level that had been covered with sand to create space for human settlements. The second factor which causes problems is related to climate change. It has led to a rise in sea levels, thus affecting the city’s groundwater level. In combination  with heavier rainfalls – which can no longer be absorbed by the already saturated soil and storm water drainage systems. The number of floods has increased. At the same time, it is likely that more intense and more frequent cyclones will hit the coast.

The vulnerable poor suffer the most
Parts of the informal townships in Chaimite, Munhava, Matacuane, Macurungo, Chipangara and Chota are already located up to ten metres below sea level, where some of the cities’ most vulnerable and poor inhabitants live. The inhabitants of these townships live under the constant threat of flooding, mostly during the rainy season and cyclones, when sea water enters the drainage ditches. The vulnerability of the population in these townships is particularly high due to the density of the dwellings, the lack of infrastructure  and the generally depressed socio-economic conditions. Families are especially susceptible to floods occurring at night with little or no warning. Without an appropriate response strategy, the situation will get worse in the decades to come. Major areas of the central neighbourhoods could become uninhabitable within the next 20 years.

A simple technical warning system
To improve early warning, especially during the night, a simple flood warning system, based on digital contact sensors activated by the rising water level with instant data uplink between the sensor and the users, has been developed with local materials and installed in critical places. It looks like a snorkel, can easily be constructed  and replicated. Hence it can also be used in other urban areas around the globe. The RISK Award helped to conclude the project and to make the efforts sustainable. The first milestone for sustainable implementation was a major disaster event simulation in October 2012. In the beginning, it was planned for operation in two districts. However, efficient allocation of resources allowed the RISK Award winner to implement the system in all six settlements with established local disaster risk committees, namely Praia Nova, Chipangara, Chota, Macurungo, Maraza and Matacuane.

Put to practice – Emergency training
On 20 October  2012, a cyclone and heavy rainfall simulation exercise for the city of Beira was conducted in Chaimite, Munhava, Matacuane, Macurungo, Chipangara and Chota. The main objective of this activity was to strengthen the coordination and operability of all stakeholders involved in response operations and action before and during emergency events, optimising local resources of the inter-institutional emergency system.
The different phases of the simulation were guided by two types of emergency information, namely special warning bulletins issued by the National Meteorological Institute INAM following the respective national alert scheme (blue, yellow, red), which permitted the emergency organisation to be directed from the beginning until the end of the simulation. Simultaneously, the city’s sewerage service reported the status of the drainage system and the sea level.

Based on the information provided by the local disaster risk committees to the provincial and city EOCs, operative intervention capacity such as the municipal police, the national police, the municipal and airport fire departments, the Mozambican Red Cross, as well as the City Health Department was deployed in the neighbourhoods. Framed in the same exercise, the neighbourhoods of Praia Nova and Macurungo were visited by a delegation that included the Governor of the Sofala Province, the Vice-Minister for State Administration, the City Mayor, the General Director of INGC and GIZ’ National Director. The purpose of this visit was to evaluate and observe the simulation event, as well as to encourage and thank the local disaster risk committees and the local population for participating in emergency preparedness events. The participation level was very high. On the whole, more than 500 people took part in the drill. Evacuation routines were practised and the functionality of the emergency kits was tested for the real case.

Because of the detailed and intensive drills, people were able to easily commit the processes they had learned to memory. Many had a role and the participants were very involved during the training. In a real emergency situation, they will recall the routines automatically. This will help to save lives and to allow objects of value to be brought into safety.

CB, 31 May 2013 

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