IT is 15 years since Omar Mzee Juma, a resident of Mkokotoni, abandoned his home close to the beach and moved into higher land for his family’s safety after witnessing floods and soil erosion caused by the rising sea.
“We are now about 50 metres to the beach,” he says, “but still I feel unsafe from the rising sea as we continue witnessing soil erosion.”
Juma, his family and other residents in Mkokotoni coastal village in the north of the Unguja Island are not the only people living with ‘fear’ due to floods and soil erosion linked to climate change.
Small islets such as Kojani, Kisiwapanza, Tumbatu, Fundo, Tumbe, Nungwi and Makoongwe, among others, now feel the pinch of the negative impact of climate change, particularly salinity of domestic water and failure to grow crops on land near the sea.
In the recent past, the rising sea has caused repeated flooding on these islets and more than 140 other areas around the archipelago have been affected by climate change.
In the scramble to protect their areas, Halifan Yussuf, a fisherman, says villages have been implementing mitigating measures which include planting trees and stopping wanton felling of trees, and construction of water barriers or concrete seawalls to control flooding.
He says environmentalists say that walls hold back rising sea water, along with people planting mangrove forests to strengthen the island’s natural defences.
“We are worried, but we hope that we can stop the rising sea from destroying our island,” he explains. Experts argue that mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters and that it is important to know that disasters can happen at any time and at any place.
Effective mitigation requires that “we all understand local risks, address the hard choices, and invest in long-term community well-being. Without mitigation actions, we jeopardise our safety, financial security and self-reliance,” Yussuf says.
Sheha Mjaja, the Director General of the Zanzibar Environment Management Authority (ZEMA), says that negative impact of climate change around Zanzibar is visible, attributed to unfriendly human activities like felling trees.
“As mitigation and adaptation strategies, we are discouraging people from wanton tree-felling, mainly mangroves and avoiding farming close to the sea, enforce regulations restricting the construction of residential houses and tourist hotels close to the beach,” Mjaja says.
Following a study by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) on the impact of climate change on people and national economy six years ago, effective mitigation and adaptation methods must be applied, he explains.
In his speech before dissolving the House of Representatives last month to pave way for the general election this year, Zanzibar President Ali Mohamed Shein also raised concern over the negative impact of climate change, saying people should understand and take action.
“In many areas of Zanzibar, sea rising has been affecting the lives of people. Soil erosion and salinity of domestic water and land close to the sea are now common problems in both Unguja and Pemba. We need to act by implementing mitigation measures.”
He said climate change was a reality and that mitigation and adaptation measures are required not as a choice. Dr Shein said the environment law and the rescue and disaster management commission have been improved “but enforcement of regulations and public awareness campaigns remain crucial.”
UN conferences held in different occasions have indicated that most small islands like Zanzibar are highly vulnerable to climate change, rising of sea level causing beach erosion and degradation of coastal areas.
“Sea level threatens tourism industry through damage to tourism infrastructure and loss of property which would consequently reduce the potential economic benefits of the sector due to reduced tourist arrivals,” the president said.
“With land becoming a scarce commodity under forces of beach erosion and the recorded cases of salt water intrusion in all the districts of the islands of Unguja and Pemba becoming conspicuous, the hazards of coastal flooding have already been rated very high in six out of ten districts of Zanzibar.”
He reminded Zanzibaris that failure to act now would give communities less time to adapt to the impact of climate change and the consequences would be more costly if mitigation efforts and adaptation measures are ignored.