IN the developed world, there is ongoing debate about the extent of climate change and the extent to which mankind is responsible.
In much of the third world, they have been living with the reality of an increase in extreme weather.
The effect can be devastating.
A UN Hydrological Disasters database shows that here in Mozambique there were three major floods in the decade 1980 to 1989, and another three 1990 to 1999. In the following decade, there were 15. A hydrological disaster is either a flood or a wet mass movement (rock fall) in which 10 or more people are killed or 100 or more people affected.
In Mozambique, 470,000 people were affected by such disasters in the 1990s, rising to more than six million in the noughties.
“Mozambique is the drainage basin for southeastern Africa,” explains Niall Tierney, a Limavady man who is the charity Concern’s director for the country.
Mr Tierney is speaking from a village called Bento, where he is showing the News Letter how a poor community is helping build a dyke to prevent it from the devastating impact of floods. The 3km barrier will protect rice crops and homes.
Bento is on an inlet off the Zambezi River in Zambezia province, which is particularly vulnerable to flooding.
There are around 200 families on the riverbank side of the village that is prone to flooding, and another 678 families on the safe side of the emerging dyke. The main village buildings such as schools are on the vulnerable side of the village, and they too will have to move.
During the annual thee-month rainy season, some level of flooding is as good as guaranteed — only the scale is uncertain.
The worst flooding so far has been 50cm high, which might not sound much but over a distance kilometres long and hundreds of metres wide, is akin to having a shallow lake on top of the village. Concern is helping families relocate across the barrier.
The engineer overseeing the structure, Braz Eduardo Anselmo, from Zambezia’s agriculture department, says that the principal purpose is to “protect life, goods and agricultural production”.
“It is going very well,” he says.
Speaking amid curious villagers, who have come out to see the Concern delegation and to stand on the structure that the locals are helping to build, he adds: “There is huge interest in the population for it to work. We pay just about the agricultural wage for every master of the community who works on it so that they don’t lose out on other opportunities while working on it.”
Mr Anselmo says that although extreme weather events may be occurring, there is better flood management than in the past. In Bento, part of that improved response means relocating to the safe side of the dyke.
Very close to the dyke, but on the wrong side, is a man in a T-shirt which depicts President Barack Obama.
Fatima Francisco Gastene Nhamadina does not know much about Obama, beyond the fact that he is leader of America. Mr Nhamadina’s mud hut does not have a TV in which he can watch events in the US or elsewhere, because there is no electricity.
Mr Nhamadina is affluent by Bento standards, in that he has three wives and 15 children. He also farms three hectares, producing and selling rice. This is a holding which he has gradually built up.
He shows the News Letter around his mud hut home, which was once flooded so badly that he had to rebuild the front wall. There are no carpets or photographs or electrical items or pieces of expensive furniture, so in a way flooding is not as devastating as it might be to a western family.
Mr Nhamadina is philosophical about the fact that he is a few feet on the vulnerable side of the dyke. A translator explains: “He is saving up with the aim of funding his family’s move.”