/ 22 August 2022

Maputo, a city where it rains regularly but there are still water challenges

WaterAid/ People's Postcode Lottery/ Mario Macilau

Mozambique is a southern African country particularly susceptible to a changing climate. The region is plagued by poverty, there are weak institutions and regular climate related-hazards. Recently the region has been hit by a number of cyclones. 

Yet, people living in the city regularly don’t have access to water. This is according to WaterAid, an international non-governmental organisation, focused on water, sanitation and hygiene, working on the ground in Mozambique where residents described these challenges.

Mozambique is one of the most climate-impacted countries in the world with a 2 700km coastline which also falls in the path of frequent tropical storms and cyclones in the first three months of the year. 

Cristina Udelsmann Rodrigues, a senior researcher in interdisciplinary African Studies, believes that “extreme climate-related events affect high numbers of populations throughout the country, in particular, central Mozambique flooding associated with cyclones and the drought in the interior; but also urban overcrowded, unplanned areas (and Maputo especially) are increasingly affected by flooding, rising sea levels and higher temperatures.” 

So how is it possible for a region to have regular rainfall but face water shortage challenges? Just four years ago, an orange alert was declared in the city, triggering water rationing as the threat loomed that supplies could run dry. 

By contrast, in February 2021 3 000 homes in Greater Maputo were flooded when two of the area’s main rivers burst their banks, forcing residents to seek safety on higher ground.

A series of interviews conducted by WaterAid sheds light on the situation

“It’s the end of the world. I don’t understand; the weather used to be better. Now it doesn’t rain for a long time but then it will rain heavily. It will fall very badly and destroy things,” said Sonilda Augusto Macandza, a 34-year-old street vendor, who’s raising five children alone.

Macandza described being pregnant while being caught in a thunderstorm with rising water reaching her knees. “It was a very scary day,” she recalled. And yet she adds at the same time: “We’re not happy because sometimes we end up without water for a week and it’s difficult.”

Rodrigues believes that it is crucial to have systems that can deal with the changing climate. “States have to catch up with creating the infrastructures and systems to deal with climate change. Mozambique has been over the recent years strengthening the national instances for climate research, urban planning or those dealing with calamities but populations, and especially the urban populations, still face daily challenges that only major infrastructural works could alleviate. These include drainage, urban planning and coastal protection for example”.

But Maputo also faces serious infrastructure issues. The capital’s water supply is currently overly reliant on one dam; rising sea levels have caused the salination of some of the groundwater sources, and the city’s water pipes are in need of repair. It’s estimated that 60% of Maputo’s piped water could be lost due to leakages.

Water trouble

The water is often of poor quality as resident Esther Francisco describes, “The water from the well is not treated. We are facing the risk of contracting diseases. I take it from the well because I have no other options. There are no other water sources for me. Even with the risks me and my children are facing, as long as I don’t have water at my own house, I will continue to fetch water from that same well.”

Esther Francisco, 31, Ricatlha, Maputo, Mozambique, January 2022
WaterAid/ People’s Postcode Lottery/ Mario Macilau

At the same time, Francisco struggles with the tropical weather and regular rainfalls, “I have suffered a lot with strong winds, rains and bad weather. Sometimes this area is completely flooded and we are forced to go and rent houses in other areas to stay safe. I have never seen so much wind and rain like I see now.”

A 77-year-old grandmother, Eusebia Mabjaia, says the unreliable weather has also affected her ability to grow crops to sell and use for her family’s consumption. “When the rain comes, maybe you will get something. Maybe you get a few nuts or a bit of cassava and then you give thanks for that. This year we haven’t seen much coming out of farms. There are rains that come to help you so you get nice sweet potatoes and other products. But in other years, everything we plant just dries up.”

Mabjaia also speaks of the other extreme. “Sometimes when it rains a lot, everything is destroyed. Things are not beautiful when that happens. There is a rain that just kills. It gets completely flooded and we can’t even go anywhere. When the rain falls heavily we know that we are lost.”

A dark outlook

Climate predictions foresee both heavier rain and drought. Average rainfall could increase as the climate changes. And yet at the same time, increasing temperatures leading to greater water evaporation could cause more severe droughts in the dry season in the second half of the century.

Rodrigues says that “institutional capacity and systems to cope with calamities have been developed but these do not cover the whole territory and are still not capable to further work in terms of adaptation”.

Ahead of Africa Climate Week, starting this week in Gabon, and COP27 later this year in Egypt, countries like Mozambique must prioritise how to deal with a changing climate, according to Rodrigues. “Adaptation efforts must be front and centre, especially to deal with the major climate issues affecting the country — drought, flooding/cyclones, and rising sea levels — focusing on the different responses needed in the countryside and urban areas.”

A major concern is that these conditions affect poor people the most.

“Strengthened support of local systems and investments in infrastructure to deal with climate change effects will help protect the most vulnerable,” said Rodrigues.

Eusebia Mabjaia, 77, Ricatlha, Maputo, Mozambique, January 2022
WaterAid/ People’s Postcode Lottery/ Mario Macilau

The Green Climate Fund

The Green Climate Fund is a global platform launched to respond to climate change through investment money in low-emission and climate-resilient development. Its overall goal is to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, and to help vulnerable societies adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. 

WaterAid, an international non-governmental organisation, focused on water, sanitation and hygiene has been working in Mozambique to deal with these types of challenges.

John Garrett, WaterAid’s senior policy analyst for development finance, said: “We are hoping that the Green Climate Fund and other co-funders can help diversify the water resources available to Greater Maputo with improved management and supply of groundwater and surface water. Together these would provide increased protection for vulnerable communities against the worst impacts of climate change.”

Adam Garley, WaterAid country director for Mozambique, said: “Maputo faces the unusual twin problem of dealing with both too much and too little water, aggravated by climate change. Planned structural improvements will go some way to alleviate the situation. But we all sincerely hope the bid to the Green Climate Fund will prove successful to build some resilience in the capital’s expanding population.”

With Africa Climate Week scheduled for the end of August, it is crucial for countries such as Mozambique to prioritise its climate-related needs. Failure to adapt to the climatic changes that looms could severely affect the most vulnerable societies.