‘There just isn’t any water’

Wednesday, 13 March 2019 11:29 GMT

Angeline Macamo, 43, collects water far away from home in Namachaa near Maputo, Mozambique. “Every single day, I walk a few miles in search of water and each day I do that it seems that I have to go further. I was born here and we used to have water nearby but now all these places are dry and there is nothing growing”. September 2018. Credit: WaterAid/ Mario Macilau

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Last year, the eyes of the world were on Cape Town’s water crisis. Here in southern Mozambique, we faced nearly the same situation. We have been experiencing drought for a few years now and in some areas, there just isn’t any water.

The past four years have been the hottest on record, according to Nasa, and predictions are that between now and 2023, global warming could exceed the Paris agreement target of 1.5 degrees.

In Mozambique we are already feeling the consequences.
That’s why as governments, donors, businesses and international organisations come together at the One Climate Summit in Nairobi this month, I can’t stress how important it is to demand their involvement in addressing these problems. Mitigating carbon emissions to limit further global warming is essential. But we need action right now – help to adapt to these impacts of climate change which my community is already experiencing every day.

Climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events. That means the same regions can face droughts and flooding in a single year.

Unpredictable rainfall leads to financial hardship for those rely on rain-dependent agriculture. When the rains do come, they fall with such intensity that the land just cannot absorb the water and causes flooding. Parts of Maputo city are built in a disordered manner with little regard for the basic rules of urbanisation, turning streets into rivers.

But even the heavy rains that fall in Maputo are not enough to replenish the city’s principal source of water, the Pequeno Libombo dam and the Umbelúzi River that feeds it, after such a prolonged drought.

In Boane, in Greater Maputo, we’re living and seeing the effects first-hand of what climate change is doing to some of the poorest places on Earth. WaterAid is working with the local government to link more households up to the city water supply, but because the city’s reservoir is at just 25% of its capacity, even with proper infrastructure, water is scarce for these communities.

Across the country, just 36% of the rural population and 85% of the urban population have access to clean water close to home (or 4.8 million people); that’s only just over half the population.

It’s always the poorest that suffer most. In Boane and Maputo, restrictions are already in place: water is ‘released’ on rotation, meaning that a household can go days without clean water, and many areas take it in turn to have running water. Those who can, buy water from traveling water tankers at high cost. Those less fortunate either have to travel to neighbourhoods served by boreholes and share with them, or seek out unsafe sources such as rivers, which will make them ill. 

This situation will get worse. Maputo is growing quickly and its population is projected to double in size, from 1.7 million people to 3.5 million, by 2035.

It isn’t just climate change which keeps Maputo thirsty; it’s also poor planning and management of water resources, and inadequate investment in solutions. WaterAid is working with the municipality to try to find sources of water that don’t rely on the current reservoir, and to improve management of services and infrastructure. Right now, we have no plan B. If the reservoir’s levels drop much more, the communities in Greater Maputo will face dark days.

Mozambique is a poor nation - nearly half the population lives below the poverty line and life expectancy is only 58 years, making it difficult for the government to sustain public services. It also struggles with corruption. The government wants to move forward, but needs support.

It is clear that water, sanitation and hygiene are essential elements in helping countries adapt to climate change. Richer countries which have done the most to cause the carbon emissions leading to changing weather patterns must now act to enable poorer nations like Mozambique to deal with its consequences. Climate change and our struggle to adapt is already happening, and more is yet to come.