The challenges and opportunities of implementing local climate action lessons from Quelimane, Mozambique

By Manuel A. Alculete Lopes de Araújo, PhD, Mayor of Quelimane City, Mozambique

Mozambique, one of the most vulnerable countries in Africa to natural disasters, has had to learn first-hand that the effects of climate change are determining factors in the country’s deteriorating poverty situation. As one of the hot spots for various types of natural disasters, mostly directly related to climate change, such as floods, droughts, and cyclones, the country’s development achieved over the years is periodically undermined. As a result, the country still ranks 180th out of 189 on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index. Mozambique’s coastal cities, which could potentially represent a vital driver for the country’s growth, are also particularly exposed to disasters. Tropical cyclones, for instance, occur regularly in the area. Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth hit Mozambique in 2019 at just a few weeks interval, causing enormous destruction and the loss of many lives. But in recent years, the port city of Quelimane decided to tackle climate change through local climate action, involving a broad constellation of public and private sector actors, with the goal of triggering long-term systemic transformation and paving the way for other cities.

The city of Quelimane and capital of Zambezia (one of the poorest provinces in the country, located on the east coast of Mozambique), is an economic hub in the area, thanks to its fairly flourishing commercial activity. However, it is also exposed to frequent flooding. These events repeatedly weaken the local production fabric and affect land availability due to both salt water intrusion and erosion, mainly impacting food systems and the agricultural, building and infrastructure sectors. However, like most Mozambican cities, Quelimane has only a limited capacity to mitigate the effects of extreme events.

“The Quelimane case is a perfect example of how local authorities can be driving forces in creating safer, more resilient and sustainable cities.” #DevMatters

To combat and mitigate climate change and its impacts, the municipality launched a series of efforts  from more traditional structural measures (road paving, rainwater drainage, construction of health facilities and markets) to more innovative measures; for instance three projects, “Quelimane Limpa” , “Quelimane Agricola” and “The Coastal City Adaptation Project”, carried out by the city through collaboration with local and international partners like NGOs, municipalities and universities. Through the exchange of best practices, technical assistance and capacity building between different actors, the city of Quelimane was able to draw up a plan tailored to its specific context addressing two major challenges: the waste management crisis and food security mangrove restoration.

In recent years, the city’s population has increased considerably due to migrant influxes, which have put great pressure on food security. The need to increase agricultural production has led to the destruction of mangroves, which protect the coastline from the effects of storms and floods and, more importantly, filter the water. Strongly linked to the issue of food availability is the problem of waste. Inappropriate waste management has caused dramatic environmental damage. One consequence is, for example, that floods reach landfill and informal waste disposal sites. The polluted water is reabsorbed into the soil, where it contaminates the aquifer. As a result, agricultural food products grown on or near flooded land are less safe for human consumption. The contaminated aquifer can also reach the urban food market, making it less hygienic. The city is also facing unprecedented public health challenges due to the outburst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes even more urgent the need to ensure safety precautions and salubrious environments.

“Quelimane Limpa” expanded municipal collection services, mainly through employee training. It re-designed the central market to enable separate organic waste collection. It created micro-enterprises for waste management and recycling, especially organic material, and a composting centre to promote the use of compost among farmers. This was all achieved by involving civil society through awareness campaigns and environmental education in schools.

“These events repeatedly weaken the local production fabric and affect land availability due to both salt water intrusion and erosion, mainly impacting food systems and the agricultural, building and infrastructure sectors.” #DevMatters

“Quelimane Agricola” focused on improving food safety by making the whole food supply chain sustainable. It sought to strengthen the agri-food system and its main actors (farmers, private sector and local authorities), by introducing innovative and sustainable practices throughout the food chain. Starting with producers at the beginning of the supply chain, this meant preventing food production from generating soil degradation and building the long-term resilience of farmers’ land to shock events from drought to heavy rainfall.

By combining training courses, the creation of entrepreneurial groups, the development of a mobile phone-based platform for farmers and the installation of irrigation systems, local producers were able to increase their profits and adapt their practices to the threats posed by climate change. These efforts also highlighted the need to raise awareness about local food among citizens, to help them choose healthier local products rather than imported ones.

Evidence shows the multiple benefits of these projects, many of which have also proven useful in containing the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. By consuming healthy local products, citizens’ strengthened the nutritional component of their diet and improved their immune systems.
  2. Through better waste management, people live in better sanitary conditions, with access to clean water, thus curbing the spread of disease.
  3. Producers have started to diversify their crops, allowing for greater dietary diversity, more resilient land, and an increase in income.
  4. Food waste is used to produce compost, which in turn generates better yields.
  5. Mangrove restoration enabled the protection of ecosystems where most fish and marine fauna reproduce.

The Quelimane case is a perfect example of how local authorities can be driving forces in creating safer, more resilient and sustainable cities. Through co-operation between local authorities, civil society, NGOs and private companies, local development and good governance processes can be promoted with successful results. If, in addition, co-operation can be extended beyond national borders by establishing city-to-city mutual learning partnerships, evidence shows that the benefits can be even be greater.