Maputo’s water woes show wider African climate challenges with too much rain and too little

5 min read
Esther Francisco, 31, Ricatlha, Maputo, Mozambique, January 2022
Image: WaterAid/ People's Postcode Lottery/ Mario Macilau

Download photos by internationally renowned Mozambican photographer Mario Macilau here.

As ministers gather in Gabon (Aug 28th) for Africa Climate Week for an important climate-step towards COP27 in Egypt in November, renowned Mozambican photographer Mario Macilau captures the everyday struggle in Maputo of dealing with too much water – or too little.

Residents of the Mozambican capital have found themselves facing such climate 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 Feb 2021 3,000 homes in Greater Maputo were flooded when two of the main rivers burst their banks sending their residents to seek safety on higher ground.

There were similar floods in January and October 2020 and the city has been focused on the threat of drought since at least 2015.

“It’s the end of the world,” says Sonilda Augusto Macandza, [pic] a 34-year-old street vendor who’s raising five children alone. “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.”

She describes one occasion when she was eight months pregnant and out with one of her young children when she got caught out in a thunderstorm wading through fast-running water up to 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.”

Queuing at an uncovered well, 31-year-old Esther Francisco [pics] describes similar experiences of both water shortages and flooding. “The water from the well is not treated. We are facing the risks of contracting diseases. I take it from there 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.”

And yet Esther adds: ”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.”

77-year-old grandmother Eusebia Mabjaia [pics] says the unreliable weather has also impacted her ability to grow crops to sell and for her family’s own 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.”

Eusebia 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.”

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.

Climate predictions foresee both heavier rain and drought. Average rainfall could increase by between 10% and 25% by 2046-2065 compared to the last 40 years (Min of Foreign Affairs, Neths 2018). 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.

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 waterpipes are in need of serious repair. It’s estimated that 60% of Maputo’s piped water could be lost due to leakages (2019 AURA report).

Climate change is adding to the challenges faced by the city and WaterAid, with the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, has worked with the Mozambican government and the UN Development Programme on a bid to the Green Climate Fund to strengthen the resilience of the water sector to climate change.   

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.”

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery added: “For families like Sonilda’s, we must do all we can to create a future where everyone, everywhere has the clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene they need. Players raised just over £2m for WaterAid’s climate work which has helped reach 117,000 people across 7 countries. In Mozambique that support has gone even further working with the Greater Maputo Regional authorities as they plan for a secure water future however insecure the climate may yet prove to be.”