When Amade Bichehe first set foot in Pemba in 1959, coconut palms lined the shore of this coastal city in northern Mozambique. The trees are now gone, washed out as the sea has steadily gained ground.
“There was a coconut tree right here some years back,” he said, pointing at a spot where the high tide now laps against a house.
Pemba is a rapidly growing city of 150,000. Floods here are common during the rainy season, often washing out houses built on hillsides.
After a few days of severe rain last year, neighborhoods resembled wetlands, streets had turned into rivers, and a large piece of the main coastal road had fallen into the ocean.
And now, with a changing climate, storms are becoming less predictable and more severe, and
flooding is magnified by sea level rise and coastal erosion.
Mozambique is particularly vulnerable, with more than half its 26 million people living along the
In early September, Fatima Funzi was at home with her husband and three children when it was
nearly overtaken by a storm surge.
“The waters came at night with strong winds,” she said. “When they started to flood the house,
we ran to our neighbor’s house further inland until the waters receded. I want to move.”
So far this year, flooding in Mozambique has displaced 50,000 and killed 159.
Learning to Adapt
Pemba’s future - and that of Mozambique - depends on its people’s ability to adapt.
In 2014, USAID’s Coastal City Adaptation Project began working closely with officials in Pemba to
help build resilience to the effects of climate change.
One of their first tasks was to create maps showing which areas are most vulnerable so that city
officials and development planners can decide where to build new infrastructure, such as roads
and bridges, and houses.
“The maps help officials and citizens better understand the risks associated with where they live
or want to build,” said Marques Naba, a Pemba city planner. In Pemba and in Quelimane, a coastal
city to the south, affordable, “climate-smart” houses will soon be built. They will be designed to
keep floodwaters out – including in latrines. And rainwater catchment systems will provide water
for washing and, once treated, for drinking.
Nature’s Own Defense
“Green infrastructure” is an affordable way to boost a coastal city’s defenses.
The city of Quelimane is working to restore mangroves, which act as natural barriers to storm
surges, protecting lives and property. About 200,000 seedlings will be planted along Quelimane’s
shoreline in the next few years. In Pemba, teams are working to stabilize sand dunes and halt
erosion by restoring ground vegetation.
Storm alerts over cell phones
The next time a storm hits, urban residents will be alerted over a new municipal text messaging
“We have an urgent need to reach residents, wherever they are, with warning messages about
events with the potential to harm their community,” said Ana Cristina João Manuel, director of
prevention and mitigation at Mozambique’s National Disaster Management Institute. “After last
year’s disaster, people are eager to act on early warning information, because they know the
consequences if they don’t.”
Naba, the city planner, still worries about climate change and Mozambique’s ability to respond.
But he says the maps, mangroves and text message alerts are making people safer. “We feel
better prepared,” he said.
Learn more about USAID's climate change work in Mozambique here.
This photo essay was originally posted on the USAID Publications Page on Exposure.