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Dealing with natural hazards in Mozambique: the case of the 2000 floods

2.1 Introduction

From December 1999 to March 2000, Mozambique was affected by extreme weather, with excessively heavy rains caused by twelve meteorological systems. In Mozambique this triggered flooding in both the southern and central parts of the country.

In Búzi particularly, cyclone Connie which moved over Mozambique on February 4th and 5th and cyclone Eline from February 21st to 22nd 2000, triggered minor flooding in the catchment. However, due to the intense rainfall in the Zimbabwean Eastern Highlands, the Chicamba Dam filled rapidly, resulting in the emergency release of water from the dam. As a result, flooding in the Búzi catchment was uncharacteristically higher than normal cyclone-triggered flooding. In this case the major Búzi River flooding was caused not by heavy rains in the region, but by the river inundation caused by the dam release. The uncharacteristic nature of this event had serious implications for early-warning system mechanisms since riverine communities did not respond appropriately by evacuating their homes and moving their livestock.

The national government, with limited resources to respond to such a disaster event, was forced to seek emergency assistance from the international community. It issued two appeals, the first on 10th February and the second on 24th February 2000. The objective of the appeals was to fill the gap between short-term humanitarian and recovery responses and the implementation of a portfolio of rehabilitation projects. The government provided a coordinated framework, and ensured the continuation of emergency assistance to those who had lost crops and houses, which marked the beginning of the transition towards rehabilitation in several sectors (GOM, 2000). The appeal was responded to positively by 55 countries, the United Nations, 52 NGOs and 56 different enterprises or institutions operating in Mozambique, and 27 religious organisations (ibid.). These institutions provided support in both central and southern Mozambique. The financial aid provided was destined mainly for six months’ food assistance to victims, for the repair of public infrastructures and for rescue material.

2.2 Impact of the 2000 event on the livelihoods of Búzi residents

The flooding of the main river catchments in south and central Mozambique was a serious obstacle to the economic progress that the country had reached over the years following the civil war which ended in 1992. The small-scale agriculturalist farming sector was the most affected, with estimates from the Mozambican government indicating that 126,600 rural households had been affected by the flooding. In these affected areas a large proportion were farming families who had been displaced and lost their fields, homesteads, agricultural equipment, livestock and other assets. About 139,000 hectares of planted crops was estimated to have been destroyed or seriously affected, and this was compounded by the damaging of food and seed stocks. It is estimated that 70-80% of livestock (mainly cattle, goats and sheep) were seriously affected. There was also an increase in vector-borne diseases. Approximately 20,000 hectares of irrigation schemes were destroyed. Public infrastructures did not escape: bridges, schools, hospitals and other public buildings were swept away, forcing residents to abandon their homes (GOM, 2000).

As result of poor recording of the impact of the 2000 flood disaster, no definitive estimates were available for Búzi. However, fieldwork in both study sites permitted an understanding of the impact on community livelihoods, which is still visible today.

The impact of the 2000 floods differed in our different study sites, but the general understanding within the visited communities was that riverine communities were the most severely affected, especially in Munamícua where households are more exposed to the risk of both flooding and cyclones, resulting in lost household structures, household assets, livestock and crops. This was exacerbated by the fact that their homesteads and their fields were both at risk from the inundating river. The impact caused by flooding in Boca was relatively low because most of the people live on high ground, although the cyclones destroyed more houses, infrastructure and livestock here than in Munamícua.

The 2000 events caused serious damage and disruption to crops with resulting food scarcities within both communities (Boca and Munamícua). What made the situation worse is that these events came a few weeks before the harvesting, when there were high expectations of a good harvest after almost six months of food insecurity. In Búzi the average annual crop production only lasts three to six months, with chronic food insecurity even during normal years (GOM, 2000). Compounding the food scarcity after the flooding was the absence of a second harvest. In the aftermath of the disaster, both communities faced serious food shortages, increasing the need for emergency assistance.

Box 1: The impact of successive floods on food security

Since 2000 we have been living in a state of growing hunger, with winds [cyclones] and floods destroying our crops before they have been harvested. We were hoping for a good harvest so that we could survive the drought. Hunger is high. The winds destroyed all the crops, especially maize and sorghum. The possibility of having something to eat is very limited, and we have to depend on donations or labour-for-food strategy. We have no time to increase the potential of our land. This has put us in a situation of permanent shame because we do not rest. We do not know what we have done to be punished like this. Our children leave school because when they come from school they do not find anything to eat at home; so they prefer to stay at home or move around the forest collecting wild fruit.

Local communities at both sites described the situation as having had a critical impact on food security. The story reported in the box on the previous page, told by a woman (almost 60 years old) in Munamícua, reflects how people see the impact of the 2000 floods and how it marked the start of, or exacerbated, chronic food insecurity.

As well as the very serious food insecurity there were high levels of housing destruction, displacement of flood-affected households and, in some areas, increased health risks due the emergence of water-borne diseases. Disease outbreaks were associated with the spreading of waste by floodwaters, the disruption of safe water supplies and the persistence of water in low-lying areas creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Compounding health risks was the disruption of what little in the way of health services had been available in the district. The implications were that household recovery rates were reduced substantially, with increasing water-borne diseases, malnutrition and limited access to health services all impacting negatively on household resilience.

As Blaikie et al. (1994) point out, people facing cyclical flood hazards live in a situation of permanent vulnerability; the disruption to assets and livelihoods by one event often makes households yet more vulnerable to future flood hazards. In Búzi after each flood, the same families tend to lose their homes, possessions and means of livelihood, increasing their vulnerability to the next disaster event (Few, 2003). This is because local communities insist on living in the lower areas close to the river, where good soils and water conditions are made available for crops production and livestock farming. They move to safe places when a disaster (especially floods) comes, but once the threat passes the tendency is to return back. In these areas homesteads and their fields were both at risk from the inundating river.

2.3 Early warning in Búzi

The Búzi administrative authorities were warned about 48 hours beforehand by their Chibabava counterparts in the Búzi upper stream that river water levels were rising rapidly. The Búzi authorities warned at least the communities surrounding their headquarters, but owing to the inefficiency and weakness of institutional coordination and communication between the district authorities and lower levels structures, the early warning failed to reach the remote zones of the district on time. However even the alerted communities did not take the warning seriously. In the Munamícua study site, one of the communities most affected by floods, people confirmed that the traditional authorities issued the early warning, but they were not believed because the rain had stopped some days[13] before, after cyclone Eline had passed on the 22nd February 2000. As a result, no preparedness measures were taken to reduce the impact of what was later reported as one of the most intense floods in the communities’ history.

2.3.1 Factors influencing early warning

In the Búzi basin, communities anticipate and prepare for flooding with the encroachment of a tropical cyclone, but this flooding is typically a low and gradual inundation, with limited impact on community livelihoods. For this reason, these communities did not take seriously the warning issued by the local authorities since they related flooding with cyclones. In both study sites (Munamícua and Boca) local villagers were aware of their vulnerability to floods but nobody imagined the scale of these particular events. The 2000 flooding, although the worst in the last five decades, was not the first that year. Two floods of low intensity, triggered by cyclones, had already occurred in early 2000 in Búzi.

The case of Búzi is an important example for reflecting on early-warning mechanisms within communities vulnerable to weather events. A better understanding of how people interpret and respond to warnings is needed (Montz & Gruntfest, 2002). For example, people are less likely to respond to a warning if the previous warning did not result in a serious disaster or if they have never experienced an event of considerable magnitude and intensity. In Búzi people did not take the warning seriously because the previous two warnings had resulted in floods of low intensity without any large impact on people’s livelihoods. They assumed that this case would be the same. The message was also not clear in that it lacked information about what to do and where to go.

In Munamícua, due to the proximity of the Búzi administrative headquarters, people were warned of the impending flood, but Boca is so far from the centre of decision-making and information flow - the Búzi headquarters - that no warning was received. It is hypothetical, but likely that this village would have responded to a warning in a way to similar Munamícua. However, according to comments from a researcher working for the UCM Beira (Franziska Steinbruch), the lack of early warning for Boca in 2000 cannot be used as an example of the failure of the early-warning system in Búzi because Boca is not a flood-prone area.

2.3.2 Community based early-warning systems

It would be an error to assume that before 2000 Boca and Munamícua had no early warnings at all. In conducting the research it became evident that, using their traditional knowledge, people knew the period of the year when floods, cyclones and droughts occur and which places are most at risk. In response, households have developed a number of strategies to reduce flood impact. For example, a man about 50 years old[14] explained as follows:

"By the tenth month we start to improve our houses, putting stones on the roof to avoid our houses being destroyed by strong winds, because we know that the rainy season is coming."

Rural communities have a traditional mechanism for predicting natural hazards through the interpretation of natural signs such as the movement of birds, the appearance of insects or the position of the new moon. However, the uncharacteristic nature of the 2000 event marked a change in the perception of natural hazards by Búzi communities. It also marked changes in terms of community organisation and mechanisms for local institutional coordination.

2.3.3 Early warning systems after the 2000 event

From 2000, community based early-warning systems have become more sophisticated, with new scientific equipment provided by external organisations such as the GTZ and CVM. Technical assistance from these organisations is helping local communities improve their early-warning systems. In both communities (Boca and Munamícua) disaster committees now involve local members in forums for disaster prevention. The GTZ has been working with traditional leaders to improve their capacity to integrate scientific early-warning systems into their planning, and both villages now have new cyclone early-warning equipment. The GTZ has provided local traditional authorities with three flags of different colours and meanings:

- blue means that within 24 to 48 hours the area might be affected by a cyclone;
- yellow means that the cyclone might be affecting the region within 24 hours;
- red means that the area might be affected almost immediately.

These signs have been displayed in public places, especially where the court or the community assembles to discuss public matters. When one of these signs is displayed, people warn each other to take preventive measures. An old man from Munamícua explained the preparations adopted by his family in case of a cyclone early warning:

"When we receive information that the wind or rain is coming, we store enough food (maize meal and dry fish) inside the house to last until the end of the event, which normally takes two to three days. We only try to protect our lives and not our houses. We know they are very fragile because they are built with insecure material. We want to improve them to avoid such situations in the future, but we face problems of lack of zinc and nails to protect the roof against winds."

In Boca, a cyclone-prone zone, other preventive measures include mobilising or advising people to:

- use stronger building materials (e.g. steel wire instead of ropes extracted from trees);

- remove the roofs from their houses at the beginning of a cyclone to avoid their being destroyed by winds;

- build houses in higher-lying areas or to build houses with upper floors

- plant bamboos around their houses to protect them from winds;

- build small huts to protect their livestock;

- avoid using canoes to cross the river by small boats and avoid walking under big trees.

Although improvements have been introduced at local level, there are still some problems that we observed in the field.

(i) A man of about 47 years said that since 2000 he has received early warnings from the traditional authorities but, because cyclones usually start at night when people are sleeping, all the preventive measures become useless.

(ii) A widowed woman of about 44 years from Boca explained that sometimes she receives information that a cyclone is coming, but sometimes it is when the cyclone it is already blowing in the area. "I don’t do anything to minimise the event; I just wait for miraculous help from God," she said.

(iii) A man of about 50 years from Boca said, "Sometimes the régulo warns that a cyclone is coming but they are not sure exactly when. We stay at home with some food provided, but we end up finishing the food because no cyclone happens. The consequence is that when it comes at last we have to face the danger of looking for food in rain and strong winds."

2.4 Local responses to the event: The role of informal social networks in emergency response

In Búzi no formal rescue was provided at the beginning of the 2000 flooding because of unavailability of resources. By the time the means for rescue were provided by official authorities or external agencies, households had already evacuated themselves to safer locations. In the Búzi headquarters, the administration used Búzi Community Radio to warn flood-prone households about the rising river, and suggested safe places for people to evacuate to, such as the Búzi Company[15] infrastructures (now inoperative). In Munamícua people evacuated to the Bândua local administration headquarters, where medical assistance, food, temporary shelter (tents), blankets and clothing were later provided.

Informal social networks played an important role in 2000 in Búzi. In most cases the emergency response was initially taken by people organising their own informal social networks (neighbourhood, friendship, kinship, church, etc.). Small private boats belonging to the fishermen along the river were used for evacuation, especially of so-called vulnerable people (elders, women and children), from the flooded areas to safer places, where they later received assistance.

Both case studies showed the extent and importance of informal social networks, local institutions and local authorities (traditional and administrative), and locally-based organisations (e.g. churches) for disaster mitigation and response using local natural resources. This occurred largely because the formal evacuation process started late. This was undertaken by the Mozambican Army, the South African Air Force, Beira MIL, AIRSERV and the Mozambican Air Force, and countries like Portugal, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the USA, Germany and Spain sent rescue helicopters. Unfortunately the research team could not access the numbers of people evacuated or rescued.

In both communities we found that, before the 2000 floods, villages already had strong networks to reduce the impact of extreme weather events as well as for subsequent recovery. For example, to minimise the problem of lack of seeds after floods, people activate social networks based on kinship, friendship or neighbourhood ties - they help each other by exchanging vegetable or cereal seed free of charge, or with merely symbolic payment. People with no seed at all acquire it by working for those who do have seed, and also give part of their harvest to these donors. The same applies to mutual food assistance in field cultivation, or "kulimila" and "likuku". However the chronic need for food during the 2000 event could not be provided for solely through these informal social networks, necessitating emergency food relief.

Many of the emergency relief organisations provided immediate assistance that lasted almost six months. Such assistance was directed at satisfying immediate needs as well as at addressing the underlying vulnerability to chronic food insecurity in the region. The emergency aid relief consisted mainly of bulk supplies of food, clothing and medicine and, in a few cases, money. CIG-UCM (2003) has identified the role of some of the institutions involved in disaster relief in 2000 in Búzi. (See Appendix 5.) This information was obtained from interviews at the study sites and other locations.

2.5 Coordinating the emergency assistance

In 2000, the Mozambican government established a national emergency coordination mechanism chaired by the INGC. Flood committees were established at provincial and district levels, with NGOs and religious organisations evaluating the needs of the affected people. In a WFP development project, some of the district administrators were trained in how to receive, store and distribute relief items, and in how to arrange transport from warehouses to transit centre committees (GOM, 2000).

The INGC (National Institute for Disaster Management) was appointed to coordinate the whole process of assistance. Its main roles were:

- to assess the needs of affected people;

- to coordinate the distribution of food and clothing by the organisations that had responded to the government appeals;

- to provide temporary accommodation in accommodation centres[16], and

- to provide medical assistance to the victims, especially in accommodation centres.

The government worked collaboratively with UN agencies (UNDP, FAO, WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP, UNFPA, UNEP/HABITAT), as well as with major NGOs and the private sector.

At the beginning of the disaster event, in agreement with the government of Mozambique, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) developed a UN Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination (UNDAC) team to assist the INGC and the UN Disaster Management Team. In facilitating the INGC’s disaster response, the UNDAC team helped in the establishment and functioning of Coordination Centres in all the regions affected by the flooding. The UNDP, through its Emergency Response Division immediately made US$50,000 available to the Coordination Centre, for office equipment and human resources. The WFP established a food distribution programme comprising a total of 53,000 tons of food, to meet the needs of 650,000 people over the following six months. A total of 99 transit camps were established nationwide, each camp housing anything from 3,000 to 60,000 people (GOM, 2000).

The main assistance provided by the UN to the affected people consisted of rescue, clothing, temporary shelter (tents), high-energy food, medical assistance, sanitation, water and vaccination against the water-borne diseases. The table below shows the roles played by some of the UN agencies.

Table 1: The role of the United Nations during the 2000 floods in Mozambique




- Distributed 53,000 tons of food to cover the needs of 650,000 people for six months


- Water supply for 29 towns - Disinfecting and major clean-up operations


- Health (immunisation campaigns and medical treatment) and nutrition


- Education (reconstruction of schools, teaching material and equipment) and food


- Agricultural sector and rural communities: immediate response and rehabilitation of essential services

Source: Adapted from GDM (2000)

2.6 Assessing need and the distribution of relief

Although the 2000 floods affected the whole Búzi basin, not all the administrative areas received the same attention. Due to the lack of a formal assessment procedure there were no solid criteria for a needs assessment.

The Búzi district was the most assisted district within the Búzi basin (see map in Appendix 4). The research team tried, without success, to discover the reasons for this preference of Búzi and exclusion of others. The Provincial Director of Agricultural and Rural Development in Chimoio said that Mussorize had been excluded from relief assistance, as it was not considered in need because it is a high-lying district with good soil and good rainfall throughout the year, and thus had a high level of food security. This was the only explanation that was forthcoming. Despite this assumption by the local authorities, the extreme nature of the flood event had a recordable impact in Mussorize. The flooding turned hills and mountains into islands, where people gathered waiting to be rescued by helicopter.

Households in both Munamícua and Boca were considered as disaster-affected. However, there were no criteria for selection. People living on higher ground were also considered affected because cyclones had an impact on the area as well as floods. This tendency of viewing hazard victims as homogeneous in terms of vulnerability and generalisable in terms of their needs has been seriously criticised[17]. In fact, communities or even households are not necessarily homogeneous, and present variations in level of vulnerability. Within a community, vulnerability variations could depend on socio-economic status, gender, age, political or even religious affiliation (Few, 2003).

Villagers in Munamícua and Boca confirmed that they received assistance from different organisations, for between three to six months. However, many households stated that the quantities were not sufficient to cover their high levels of need until the next harvest. The assistance was provided after a rapid needs assessment conducted by the donors or administrative authorities. In other areas local traditional authorities were involved in listing affected households. The listing process sometimes was falsified because traditional leaders registered more than the actual number of households, in order to get more assistance. According to some interviewers, the numbers of affected people were inflated for this reason, even by the national government and some NGOs. As a result, while this study was taking place, the CCM was busy with an independent assessment, for food assistance, of the number of ‘vulnerable’ people within the Boca community. The difference in numbers between the two assessments was substantial. The CCM also showed disappointment with some administrative authorities who took advantage of the fact that people gathered in one place for food distribution, and used this as an opportunity for political mobilisation.

2.6.1 The role of traditional authorities in assessing households’ needs and distributing relief

In both communities it was recognised that traditional authorities played an important role during the 2000 event, but they were sometimes limited by not knowing precisely what was going to happen, especially in Boca. In some cases it was reported that they appeared primarily interested in securing their own household assets as opposed to assisting the community.

Since the 2000 events, the way traditional authorities have been looked at by the government and other organisations working at local level has undergone a small positive change. At the Estaquinha administrative post, traditional authorities are now invited to attend monthly meetings where they are encouraged to report to the head of administration on problems and progress in their area of jurisdiction. The problem they report most frequently is hunger. All local state organs, especially the agriculture, health and education sectors, are involved in this meeting to discuss what to do an emergency, and how to mobilise communities to take seriously the information they are given. During the fieldwork for this study, Estaquinha and Boca were seriously affected by drought; the message from this small committee to the villagers was to tell them to avoid selling crop stocks because their hunger was likely to continue for a long time. In Bândua, where Munamícua is situated, we heard that a similar committee was working locally but with some problems in terms of frequency of meetings. In Boca, local authorities also play an important role in land distribution, especially in areas close to the river, with fertile soil.

At both study sites there is conflict between administrative authorities (the President of the locality) and traditional authorities (régulos) regarding the apportionment of power. At the local level there is no clear definition of hierarchy between these authorities; they all use the same state symbols and report to the same level of administration - the chief of the administrative post. The situation is clearer in Bândua, where the geographical boundaries of the administrative and traditional authorities coincide. Within the regulados, conflicts also arise involving the régulo and his co-workers (chefe da povoação and sagutas): the régulo is paid by the state, so the co-workers also claim for state payment, alleging that they have been doing the same work as the régulo, including disaster early warning and mitigation, and the establishment of order within the villages. It is important that the state authority to avoid conflict that can undermine order, security and people’s livelihood in rural areas investigate this aspect.

Although there are positive aspects as regards the role of the traditional authorities, they have been accused of nepotism when food assistance arrives. When they enrol people for food assistance, the names of their relatives or friends have been first on the list, and sometimes they register more than one member from the same household.

2.6.2 Institutional limitations and challenges in distributing relief

During the relief distribution, several constraints emerged in the field. There are many possible reasons for this. Firstly there was a severe scarcity of fiscal resources on account of the lack of institutional capacity to act quickly to solve emerging problems. Second was the problem of inefficient flow of information about what was happening at different administrative levels.

The limited capacity of the national government in terms of resources (human, material and financial) to respond to the emergency was clear from the outset. Although there was a positive international response to the government appeal, the lack of coordination of national and international agencies, and of governmental and non-governmental organisations, constituted a major limitation in addressing the needs of the rural population. This problem was especially bad at provincial level in Sofala, although the INGC played an important role in institutional coordination and relief distribution. According to a senior worker of the FAO, Sofala was notorious for very poor coordination. In other provinces things did go a little better.

Due to the inefficient coordination of relief distribution by the government entity, and because of a lack of trust that formal authorities would be able to deliver relief aid to households in need, some organisations and donors decided to distribute relief independently. In southern Mozambique a similar problem occurred when people, including the so-called most vulnerable (elders, women and children) were forced to struggle for food and resources from relief agencies, sometimes being involved in physical violence. This happened because the external organisations providing assistance did not work in coordination with the established authorities in the provisional accommodation centres.

In Búzi, similar social tensions arose when USAID distributed financial relief to women only. USAID had decided to allocate money to the community using selection criteria based on gender, with only women receiving the 1,500,000.00MZM[18] (about US$60) designated per household. According to district authorities, the objective was to promote gender balance. USAID recognised that women were the most vulnerable and generally in a better position to manage financial resources, but men misinterpreted this decision, seeing it as a challenge to their authority within the household, thus creating social problems between men and women.

Box 2: The social influences of USAID within households

The financial aid provided by USAID caused many social problems within the community and within households:

  • Divorce - some women, who had been forced to live with their husbands due to the lobola[19] paid to their parents, after having received aid money, decided to repay their husbands an amount corresponding to the lobola, in order to end a ‘forced’ marriage. Such cases were reported at both study sites. This contributed to social instability within the communities and households.

  • Suicide - some husbands forcibly took the money from their wives and used it for lobola to marry another woman. One case was reported in Munamícua, which had resulted in the suicide of the first wife.

  • Entertainment - in both sites several cases were reported where husbands took the money from their wives to buy traditional beer and tobacco;

  • Homicide - in a community outside our study sites, a member of the community killed a traditional chief because he was blamed for the exclusion of that community from the USAID financial donation.

Another criticism can be levelled at the way USAID was distributed: the organisation did not prepare local communities on how to use the money distributed in improving their lives. This resulted in misuse of resources - most of the money was spent on food and not on replacing household assets or weatherproofing houses to resist future extreme weather events.

Most of the villagers interviewed, including women (who benefited directly from the donation) stressed the negative side of the monetary assistance on the social relationship within the community, especially within some households, but it is completely true to assume that the donation brought more problems than solutions. In fact, the team observed on the ground that some households had opportunities to replace the lost households’ assets and in some cases the money was used for increasing the portion of cultivated land as a way to increase the crops production. It is also important to emphasise that the mechanisms for resource (money) distribution involved in this process: by giving directly to the woman in the domestic sphere it became possible to expand the number of benefited people among the households because women focused on goods for family consumption, including children and elderly (the most vulnerable people). From this donation it was also possible to access certain services such as health and education, improving their living conditions. It was difficult to link this relief with development because the majority of the donated people used the money for goods for immediate consumption, rather than applying the funds in activities that could allow then receiving future benefits.

Other problems that emerged can be summarised as follows:

(i) Limited government capacity to monitor relief distribution: at national level the government lacked capacity to coordinate the different organisations involved in relief distribution, resulting in a number of agencies working independently.

(ii) Lack of institutional coordination resulted in limited identification of affected households.

(iii) Limited disaster assessments: not all affected areas received relief; coverage of the more remote areas was particularly poor;

(iv) Agencies and NGOs assisted with the immediate response and relief but left soon afterwards: Two years after the floods, many community members could not remember which agencies were active at the time, with the exception of the CVM, GTZ and INGC. Most organisations worked in Búzi for no longer than three months;

(v) Lack of consideration of local traditions, culture or gender issues: This resulted in conflicts instead of alleviating the suffering of local communities. The information in the box on the previous page highlights some of the negative consequences of the financial aid offered by USAID.

2.7 Local perceptions of increasing disaster risk

The 2000 event marked the lives of most villagers in rural Mozambique. Most of the people interviewed reflected on how they had never experienced such a destructive phenomenon. They also said that since 2000 floods and cyclones had increased.

Community perceptions of risk varied, with some villagers considering drought as having the worst impact because takes a long time to pass, whilst the impacts of cyclones and floods are short-lived. Others defined floods and cyclones as the most dangerous because they are very difficult to mitigate, due to their rapid onset. A man of about 55 years explained that mitigating the effect of drought is very easy because people just plough in the wetlands close to the river to produce food, especially vegetables. Droughts can also be mitigated through activities such as the sale of livestock to purchase food. Hunting and fishing are also used to generate alternative sources of food.

In an attempt to understand the perceptions of local communities of the increased prevalence of disasters since 2000, the question "Why have extreme events increased in frequency over time?" was asked. The box below summarises some of the answers to this question.

Box 3: Different interpretations for the increase in disasters

  • Change of customary rules and taboos, resulting in the anger of the spirits of the local ancestors: young people engaging in relationships outside of marriage; bush burning and cultivation close to sacred places; fathers taking daughters as wives;

  • Natural phenomena must change - because of the social, political and economic changes in the world;

  • Apocalyptic changes (new things will happen, to mark the end of the world): we have to believe that each moment has its destiny; disasters happen to make people believe in God; if we accept good gifts from God, we have to accept the unpleasant ones also (sisters from the Catholic Church in Estaquinha).

  • Political injustice: the floods happened a few months after the general elections - why? We were asked this question by an interviewer in Bândua, a prominent member of Renamo, the opposition party that claims to have actually won the general election in December 1999. According to this interviewer, the floods were a sign that the election results were due to intimidation. The increase in disasters since 2000 is a way [for God] to punish Frelimo, which some believe came to power without winning the election. According to the interviewer, this situation will persist until Frelimo allows others to rule the country.

  • Scientific reasons: more extreme weather is just happening.

2.8 The role of institutions in long-term recovery and risk reduction in at-risk communities

Emergency response and relief was largely designed to be a temporary solution to the crisis, and this actually impeded the sustainable recovery of at-risk communities. Although communities have developed some mitigation strategies, these are often very limited, increasing the need for local institutions to support these communities on a long-term basis.

Reconstruction programmes for aiding affected households after the flood were implemented by a number of internal agencies and non-governmental and church organisations, but considering the level of destruction suffered, they were far too small to address the needs of the population. The government was mainly occupied with the reconstruction of public infrastructure such as hospitals and health centres, schools, roads and small bridges, but the level of these services is still far from adequate. For example, people in Munamícua are still far from any hospital or clinic, and to get medical assistance need to walk about 15 kilometres in each direction to the Bândua or Búzi administrative headquarters. The Boca community benefited considerably because of its proximity to the Estaquinha administrative post where the Catholic Church took over the local primary school and the health centre after the war.

After the emergency was over most of the aid organisations disappeared. The only ones left working in the Búzi basin were those whose main activities were related to disaster risk management, such as the GTZ, CVM and some organisations working on food and seed distribution (CCM, ESMABAMA). Other smaller NGOs were working on projects related to agricultural development. The GTZ and the CVM are however the only organisations that have been actively involved in disaster prevention from after the 2000 event until 2003. However, they face certain constraints, mostly associated with financial and human resource limitations, which do not allow them to cover the extensive areas where people are living in permanently ‘at-risk’ situations. The GTZ has been working to strengthen the community-based organisations and now is attempting to draw on traditional coping strategies in its risk reduction (e.g. using traditional boats for rescue, floods simulation activities). These two organisations appear to be well-placed for playing a significant role in the mitigation of disasters resulting from natural events, as well as in preparing poorer and marginalised groups to cope with them

Some other local organisations have been working on livelihood improvement. These include the PACDIB (Programme for the Development of the Búzi District), which works on micro credit and livestock replacement in rural communities, the CCM[20], which works with seed and food distribution, and the ESMABAMA, working on labour-for-food strategies.

A list of the organisations that were involved in Boca and Munamícua in 2003 is given here. They are discussed in detail below.

- ESMABAMA (housing, food distribution, education, health centre, early warning);

- Red Cross (temporary shelter, food (biscuits and salt), water cleaning, fight against malaria and other diseases);

- FCF (food distribution);

- PMA (road rehabilitation);

- Kulima (agricultural tools);



- Methodist church (housing and food distribution).


The INGC is a permanent state institution funded in 1999, acting as a coordinating body under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. This national disaster authority consists of two main departments, the planning and operation departments. Functions reserved to the planning department consist of proposing programs and projects on prevention, relief and infrastructure rehabilitation; production and dissemination of climatic and other disasters management information; implementation of early warning, preparedness and mitigation systems; proposing procedures for emergency situations and organisation of documentation centre with a database, the operation department is responsible for the contingency plan and coordination of the implementation of relief programmes.

During the 2000 floods the INGC and the CVM were responsible for coordination and distribution of emergency assistance nationwide. However, in Sofala province, due to problems related to high corruption and lack of effective coordination the INGC failed to reach its main. Due to the same reasons some donors organisations ignored the legitimacy and the role of the INGC, deciding to distribute emergency assistance directly to the affected people. In the visited areas the INGC is almost an unknown institution and when asked about the role played by any government institution most of our interviewers responded ‘none’. It is not completely true that the INGC was not there, but comparing with actions and impact of the presence of other NGOs it was not visible. Since 2000 the tasks of the INGC go beyond the institutional capacity. Various NGOs have been working collaboratively or assisting the INGC to develop activities targeting the improvement of professional and administrative and technical skills.

CVM (Cruz Vermelha de Moçambique) - the Mozambican Red Cross

A district commission of the Mozambican Red Cross is situated at the Búzi district administrative headquarters, with small branches ("nuclei") in most localities around the district. The Búzi district commission reports to the provincial commission and this reports in turn to the national headquarters. The Red Cross is developing projects in Búzi in areas such as early warning, health, water treatment and sanitation.

Through the use local volunteers, the Red Cross works in coordination with the local administration and health authorities to combat water-borne diseases such as malaria and cholera. The Red Cross convenes meetings with the local communities to discuss matters such as natural hazards and mechanisms of prevention of water-borne disease, and assists in mobilising communities to abandon high-risk zones.

GRC - Gestão de Risco de Calamidades (Disaster Risk Management), a GTZ Project attached to GTZ-Proder[21]

The GTZ played an important role in Búzi during the 2000 floods, especially in terms of response and post-disaster assistance. After the floods, through its Proder project (Rural Development Project in Sofala), the GTZ participated in school and health centre rehabilitation, and assisted the government in implementing local disaster risk management.

The GTZ was the first organisation to implement a disaster management strategy based at community level, by establishing local committees for risk management in Búzi. Other important activities of the GTZ include:

- Providing local communities with basic kits for improved early warning, rescue and response;

- Promotion of workshops and training for local activists for disaster prevention, preparedness and better response;

- Introduction of new agricultural techniques and new crops, or the re-establishment of local crops, to reduce people’s vulnerability to natural hazards.

According to members of the Red Cross in Búzi, the idea of creating the GRC came from a senior GTZ worker in Sofala province, in May 2000. The GRC has since expanded to include all localities of the district. In each community a nucleon or committee, consisting of seven volunteer members, represents the GRC. This committee works in coordination with local traditional authorities, mobilising people living in low-lying areas to move to safer places. Among other activities the GRC:

- promotes seminars with local authorities on risk management;

- monitors radio weather forecasts and gives this information to the local authorities who activate mechanisms to inform the community. GRC members themselves also disseminate early warnings to local communities;

- searches for the safest places for habitation;

- mobilises the owners of boats to participate in evacuation processes;

- evacuates the most vulnerable people to safe areas;

- mobilises people to abandon flood-prone regions in favour of higher-lying areas.

These committees face a number of constraints, which include the following problems:

- A lack of means, especially transport, to spread their activities to other areas through small nucleons, especially in remote areas. Although local initiatives have emerged from the communities to repair roads, some roads are still in need of engineering work.

- Although communities are being mobilised to seek safer places, some people refuse to leave the lower lands. The argument is that they cannot leave their crop trees (cashew nuts and other trees) unprotected. They also do not believe that a disaster similar to the 2000 floods will occur again. To try to convince the villagers that this is not necessarily the case, GRC workers use the example of lunar eclipses, which can occur twice in two years after not appearing for many years. What is really behind this refusal is that, although the risk is understood, people still prefer to stay in their original homes rather than move to new places without any certainty that conditions will improve.

- Only a few GRC agents have been given training in disaster management.

The Catholic Church and the CCM

These organisations use the Christian message to promote solidarity and a spirit of brotherhood for mutual assistance in cases of emergency. The Catholic Church commissions within the church have developed a range of different assistance procedures. The Charity Commission is the most important of these, and is responsible for collecting goods for distribution to affected people. The church also works as an important instrument for disaster early warning, and for encouraging people to adopt preventive measures.

The local Catholic school in Estaquinha also works as an important institution for disaster management. When teachers receive an early warning via radio from the weather services, they transmit it to their students, who inform their parents back home. In Estaquinha, teachers also participate in the meeting held monthly at the administrative headquarters, where they discuss how to solve or minimise the problems of natural hazards.


ESMABAMA is a project created in 1995 by the Catholic Church to deal with post-conflict situations, but from 2000 it turned its focus to emergency food relief, and the distribution of seed and agricultural tools to flood victims along the Búzi River. This organisation has been working collaboratively with other organisations locally such as GTZ and the traditional authorities. During the fieldwork, ESMABAMA was focused on labour-for-food strategies to assist the local villagers against the drought that was affecting the study site. Other main activities of this organisation include:

- Training local communities in the care of livestock and the production of drought-resistant crops. Students also have a role in transmitting this knowledge to their parents and relatives back home and around the community.

- Promoting labour-for-food, in conjunction with the WFP: using work in road clearing and repair as a way to help people affected by drought.

[13] No data on how long.
[14] Interviewed in Boca, 15/05/03.
[15] The Búzi Company was an agricultural company whose main activity consisted of sugar cane cultivation and the production of sugar and other products extracted from sugar cane. The company was closed in 1992 due to financial problems, which were mainly as a result of the long civil war, which increased production costs.
[16] Temporary camps, consisting mainly of tents, to accommodate the people affected by floods.
[17] See for example Few (2003) quoting Bhatt (1998) and Maskrey (1999).
[18] Foreign Exchange Rate: 1USD » 21,000.00 MZM (2000).
[19] An amount paid in cash, livestock or goods to the parents of the wife as compensation for the loss of their daughter.
[20] The majority of the protestant churches are members of this council.
[21] A rural development project, in Sofala Province, of the GTZ.

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