Resettlement after disaster in Mozambique

After Cyclone Idai, the Mozambican government moved people from high-risk affected areas to new settlements. However, State-led resettlement is often problematic and fails to provide durable solutions.

In March 2019, Cyclone Idai hit central Mozambique with unprecedented intensity. The fury of the wind and the strength of the rain destroyed thousands of houses and flooded many agricultural fields, leaving many people without a place to live nor land to farm. Climate experts were quick to issue warnings that cyclones and floods – not uncommon in Mozambique – are becoming more frequent and extreme due to climate change, and that measures to deal with this new reality must be put in place.

As an immediate response, many people fled to temporary accommodation centres that were created in local schools and other public buildings. Just a few months later these accommodation centres were replaced by 66 new resettlement sites created by the Mozambican government as a quick go-to approach to address the aftermath of the cyclone. Around 88,000 individuals from various affected areas were resettled together in these new sites in rural and remote areas of central Mozambique. The resettlement of people from high-risk areas to new, and supposedly safer, places was the government’s preferred way of reducing risks in the future. This resettlement programme is not the first large-scale displacement of people in Mozambique’s history; the colonial aldeamentos programme, post-colonial villagisation, socialist re-education camps, civil war, and previous natural disasters all led to displacement – sometimes forced, sometimes voluntary, and often with active involvement of the government.

Resettlement can be problematic

However, and as the literature emphatically shows, State-led resettlement is not uncontested and is often problematic. Re-establishing lives from scratch implies much more than just providing people with a piece of land; they need durable and adequate solutions. Ideally, solutions are in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as set out by the Interagency Standing Committee. This implies, for instance, physically and legally secure shelter; access to food and public facilities (e.g. electricity, schools, and medical assistance); and the possibility to establish livelihoods independent from external aid. Moreover, resettlement must take into consideration the impacts on hosting communities, such as the loss of land, overload of existing public facilities, and cultural clashes. But if resettlement is a difficult process in any circumstance, it can be even more complicated in a country with economic and institutional limitations like Mozambique. If the approach taken regarding resettlement is not carefully designed and implemented, the solution can turn out to be worse than the problem, and people can be left in a worse situation than the one they were in before.

The path to durable solutions: information, consultation, participation

Our recent research, conducted in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, made us reflect on the durability of solutions and the ways in which the resettlement approach taken by the government could be made more durable. The interviews we conducted with several people affected by the cyclone and resettled in its aftermath paint a clear picture of the struggles people experience in rebuilding their lives through the resettlement process.

For instance, many respondents described the unclear communication and lack of information from State officials that preceded the resettlement. People received little information about the locations and conditions of the resettlement sites, and the new settlers were unable to choose or visit them beforehand; they simply had to board a bus with all of their belongings and set off into the unknown, making resettlement an enormous leap of faith. Resettlement sites are usually located in relatively remote areas with space to accommodate new settlers. But such areas typically have limited access to services and lack employment opportunities. From our data, it becomes visible that, in general, those who were used to a more rural setting and those from nearby areas were adapting better to their new reality than those from urbanised and distant parts of the country. Nearby, rural settlers were able to continue their agricultural livelihoods, sometimes even at the same fields, which made the transition less drastic. One of them described the resettlement site in Biblical terms as “the promised land”. This stands in sharp contrast to other respondents who said that they cried for days when they first arrived in “the bush”.

The Mozambican government took bold steps to make resettlement the preferred option to address the risks of climate change, in line with UN Guiding Principle 28 which states that the primary responsibility to provide durable solutions for IDPs should be assumed by the national authorities. However, the government has overlooked the sub-section on Participation of IDPs in the planning and management of such solutions. While in the short-term this involvement can make the resettlement process longer and more complex, such initial complications will probably pay off in the future. With adequate information and the possibility of choice, those living in high-risk areas can better anticipate what to expect, and take more-informed decisions, which are better adapted to their own needs and circumstances. Moreover, with more information and choice, people would be more willing to deal with the difficulties of resettlement, as they would feel ownership and responsibility for the solution adopted. Without this, such resettlement initiatives are likely to fail.


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