Dry river bed, Moma, Nampula Province, Mozambique. Aerial shot.

Mozambique, a nation of  28 million people, stretches along the east coast of southern Africa, from Tanzania down to South Africa.

It is the world’s 36th largest country in size and is blessed with a diversity of natural resources. Around half of its land mass is considered capable of supporting arable farming and 25 major river systems, including the  Zambezi river – the fourth longest in Africa – and the Limpopo. With extensive mineral resources and a 2,700 km coastline, it has the potential to be an African success story.

Instead, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 181 out of 189 in the 2016 Human development report. Almost 70% of the population live below the poverty line and 44% are considered to be in severe poverty, meaning that they are deprived even of their basic needs, such as food, water, sanitation facilities and education.

A 16 year long civil war ended in 1992 but progress back towards normality remains slow. Catastrophic flooding and two cyclones in 2000 destroyed much of the post-war recovery work and sent Mozambique back to the drawing board.  Since then, it has suffered a series of further setbacks.

In the 2016 World Risk Index, Mozambique ranks third in the list of countries with the highest susceptibility to disasters (likelihood of suffering harm in the event of a natural hazard process) and eleventh in the list of countries with the highest vulnerability (susceptibility, lack of capabilities and capacities of people or systems to cope with and adapt to the negative impacts of natural hazards) worldwide. Part of that is down to its geography and a reliance on rain-fed agriculture.which leaves it vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Climate-related hazards are becoming more frequent and intense, each time depriving millions of farmers of the few resources they have and hindering the country’s efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. According to the National Institute for Disaster Management INGC) between 1980 and 2012, Mozambique faced 24 floods, 12 droughts and 16 cyclones, in addition to the January 2013, February 2014, and January 2015 floods and the 2016 Tropical cyclone Dineo.

Fishermen, Moma, Nampula Province, Mozambique

A 2015 report from the NetherlandsCommission for Environmental Assessment warned that “Mozambique is one of Africa’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. Poverty, weak institutional development and frequent extreme weather events make Mozambique especially vulnerable. Climate- related hazards such as droughts, floods and cyclones are occurring with increasing frequency, which is having a cumulative and devastating impact on a population that is insufficiently prepared.

The report predicted hotter days, more severe floods and droughts and predicted that “climate change is expected to cause a drop in GDP of 4-14% or costs of up to USD 7.6 billion dollars by 2050, seriously hampering economic development.

1.5 million people affected by drought 795,000 children affected by drought 246,000 children under five affected by drought

Source: Unicef Humanitarian Report, June 2017

It is against this backdrop of increasing hardship and impoverishment that the number of child marriages in the country is rising, despite efforts by the national government to tackle the issue.

The legal age of marriage is 18 but girls can marry at 16 with parental consent. In 2015  the government of Mozambique approved a national strategy for limiting child marriage, but the rising population has actually resulted in an increase in the number of marriages.

The number of child brides is rising across Africa as a whole, with Unicef warning in 2015 that the total could more than double to 310 million by 2050 if current trends continue. Mozambique is one of the countries most affected: it sits ninth in the world league table for child marriage, with nearly one in two girls married by the age of 18 (48.2%) and 14.3% married by 15.

The highest rates of child marriage are found in the northern provinces including Nampula, the focus of the Brides Of The Sun investigation in Mozambique.  Unicef’s report found that 129,604 girls in the province were married before their 18th birthday. The largest numbers of adolescent pregnancies were also found in the region (107,553 girls).

'Here in Mozambique many marry off their daughters, even if it isn't what they had planned. Because there’s no other option ... People let their girls marry early, because of the suffering. I have to support nine people. I can’t manage to support all of them.'

Januario Antonio, farmer.

The Unicef report noted that girls in rural areas married earlier than those in towns and cities. Improvements in the rate of child marriage were outweighed by an increase in population and two  provinces (Nampula and Maputo) had seen 10 per cent increases between 1997 and 2011 in rates of pregnancies among girls aged below 15, an increase the report described as “statistically significant”. It found that the highest increase was in Nampula, where in 2011 there were an additional 27,052 pregnancies among the under 18s than in 2003.

The rise in teenage marriage and pregnancy comes at a time of increased pressure on rural families struggling to make a living in the face of decreasing agricultural yields and fishing catches.

Parents interviewed by the Brides Of The Sun project said that this was no coincidence: they could not  afford to feed all of their children. They saw marrying off a daughter as a solution that worked not only for them but also for the girl herself, offering her a chance to be supported by a new husband unencumbered by a large family.  Sometimes it was the girl herself who proposed marriage as a solution, tired of struggling to get by on the meagre earnings of her parents.

Girls Not Brides, an international advocacy group campaigning for an end to child marriage, reported in 2016 that “child marriage rates have increased in some crisis situations. While gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage in both stable and fragile contexts, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with economic hardship exacerbated by crisis and to protect girls from increased violence”.

Dried up river in Nataka, Larde district, Mozambique. Local people say they used to fish the river until the rains became unreliable and the river disappeared. It’s couirse remains visible from the air.

In its report “Hope Dries Up,” released in 2016, CARE International estimated that “as of 2015, there were 631,000 child brides in the country and prior to the onset of the El Nino drought it was expected that by 2020 Mozambique would have 732,000 child brides, many aged below 15 years … With the onset of the drought, many families have used child marriage as a coping mechanism to raise income (through payment of a bride price) or to reduce the number of dependents per household”.

The response of the government of Mozambique has been to put in place a national strategy for Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate change until 2025, considering that “climate changes cannot be avoided” and that “its impacts translate into increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, cyclones, changes in temperature and precipitation patterns and other phenomena such as rising sea levels, saline intrusion and forest fires, among others”.

Ahead of the 2015 Paris agreement, the national government warned that “the consequences of the observed impacts of climate change in the country include the loss of human lives, destruction of socioeconomic infrastructures and property, loss of livelihoods and environmental degradation, including erosion and saltwater intrusion, with impacts in the communities and the national economy”.

Almost 70% of the country’s population lives in rural areas and much of the population is concentrated along a narrow coastal strip, relying mainly on subsistance farming and fishing.

With every dry spell, thousands of acres of land are affected, crops fail, harvests are scorched, productivity decreases, rivers dry up, prices increase, food gets scarce, diseases spread as livelihoods are ruined.

The major droughts that occurred in 1980, 1983, 1985 and 1992 killed more than 100 000 people and affected over 17 million, spreading famine across the country.  From  2000 to 2012, Mozambique was hit by 11 cyclones, twice the number observed between 1984 and 1997.

In 2007 and 2008 Mozambique was affected by various natural disasters. Even as they were still recovering from the 2007 floods, parts of the country once again experienced major flooding the next year, while the other regions were dealing with severe dry spells. Then, the tropical cyclone Jokwe lashed the northern districts, killing at least 13 people and destroying 9 472 houses. According to the Red Cross, “the local government in Nampula Province estimates that a total of 100,000 hectares of crops were washed way. The cyclone destroyed the main economic activities in the province, which is cashew beans farming and fishing as it destroyed the trees and fishing boats”.

The road from Nampula, Mozambique, to Moma.

Brigi Rupio, administrator for the Larde district, said that later, “in early 2015, there was a a big flood. After that, there was drought. And everything we planted on the land was destroyed”.

January Antonio, a farmer from the Nampula province, recalled that “between 2006 and 2008, there was a lot of sun. Then, in 2008, there was a cyclone that just took away everything we had. That’s when we started to struggle. Initially, I managed to harvest 15 or 20 bags of cassava, but on these days I can barely manage to get two or three bags”.

In 2015 and 2016, El Nino conditions – a phenomenon that disrupts normal weather patterns every few years in Southern Africa – caused the worst drought in 35 years, affecting 39 million people across the continent.

The Mozambican government’s Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition (SETSAN) warned that 2.1 million people were facing food insecurity and a nutrition crisis by November 2016. More than a year later, Mozambique is slowly recovering from the devastating effects of the drought. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security predicted that the 2017/18 agricultural season would be good, with food production expected to be above average. But the World Meteorological Organisation’s projections suggest that there is a 40% chance of El Niño developing by the end of 2017, a probability considerably higher than normal.

Experts are still debating whether rising global and ocean temperatures due to climate change are intensifying El Nino, though a 2014 study published in Nature Climate change argues that its occurrence could double in the future due to greenhouse gas emissions.

As Mozambique struggled to deal with consecutive failed harvests due to prolonged drought, the Tropical Cyclone Dineo wreaked havoc in the country in February 2017. Strong winds exceeding 160km/h and torrential rains killed seven people, injured 55, displaced more than 100 000 and affected overall more than 600 000 Mozambicans. According to the National Institute of Disaster management, 20,000 mud-made huts were partially or completely destroyed, their fragile leaf roofs being blown away, more than 1,600 classrooms were affected, 70 health facilities were affected, 137,000 fruit trees were lost and 29,000 hectares of precious agricultural lands were left empty, damaging the crops that were expected to be harvested in April 2017.

The long-term projections are no more encouraging. Temperatures for Mozambique are expected to increase by 1.4 to 3.7 °C by 2060. The number of hot days and nights are projected to rise by 17-35% and 25-25%, respectively, in the next 43 years.  

'It’s too hot. The water is warmer. And because of that, there’s a difference in the kind of fish we catch. Before, we used to catch some big fishes. People used to come from the city, from Nampula, to buy them. But, now we just catch a few small ones. Our business changed. And the poverty continues.'

Antonio Momade Jamal, a fisherman from Moma

Weather patterns are also expected to become more erratic. Since the 1960s, rainfall has decreased by 3.1% per decade, going down to 9% by 2060, while the number of extreme rainfall days have been increasing by 2.6% per decade and is expected to continue to rise in the future.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change predicts that the sea level will rise by 96 centimetres by 2100, threatening the lives of the two thirds of Mozambique’s population who live in the coastal belt.

“In the areas where we used to go fishing, the sea level is rising and the waves are much stronger. I’ve noticed that because on our way to the place where we used to fish, there was a big tree. And today, that tree is not there anymore. And the water is deeper”, fisherman Antonio Jamal explained.

Administrator Brigi Rupio is currently looking for ways to move many inhabitants further away from the Larde river.

“When I arrived here in 2014, there was a house right next to the river. But in 2015, there were severe floods that destroyed houses and increased the level of the river,” he said. “Then, there was drought. We had areas were we used to produce rice. But because of the dry spells, it’s not possible anymore. The weather is changing, even those who cannot read or write can notice that.”


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