Floods are an annual event in Mozambique. Each year, rivers flowing to the Indian Ocean swell with rain. Eventually, the rivers burst their banks.
In years of heavy flooding, the result can be disastrous. In 2000, 700 people were killed by floods. More than four million people were forced to flee their homes.
But floods do not have to be disasters. Villagers are now working with weather forecasters and disaster management experts to stay safe.
Many villages are moving to higher ground. Weather forecasters have determined which villages are at greatest risk. People in these villages are offered new, safer land on higher ground. This land is purchased by the government as part of disaster management efforts.
In recent years, 120,000 families have relocated. New homes on higher ground stay dry even when flooding is severe. At the same time, families retain ownership of their original land on flood plains.
Land on flood plains is often valuable for farming and fishing. Annual floods spread nutrients across the land. Floods replenish wetlands where fish thrive. By keeping a home on high ground and land on low ground, villagers get the best of both worlds.
Other villagers make their homes on “middle” ground. The risk of flooding is less severe. These people are being encouraged to build elevated houses. These houses allow water to flow underneath without being swept away.
Helio Banze is director of one flood basin area. He says people who stay on flood plains must be ready to respond to early warnings. They need to identify escape routes to higher ground and be ready to use them on short notice.
Villagers play an active role in early warning systems. For example, people living along the Buzi River have volunteered to monitor rainfall. They report heavy rains or a significant rise in water levels to a central coordinator. Entire villages are notified of flood risk through radio broadcasts and through coloured flags.
Dulce Chilundo is director of the National Institute for Disaster Management. He says these measures reduced the number of people affected by the last major flood in 2007-2008. Only 100,000 people were displaced then, compared with millions in 2000. Nine people died as a result of the 2007-2008 floods.