Stone Town residents address climate change impact on cultural heritage sites

IMPACTS of Climate change have been noticed around the globe and Zanzibar is no exception, as studies reveal that its historical Stone Town, UNECSO’s heritage site since year 2000, is experiencing the problem on its coastal area, including erosion (beach erosion).

The major potential areas for climate change threats are those found on coastal and marine areas, and this is influenced by a number of factors, among them rising temperature, increased rainfall variability, higher wind speeds and high tide levels and increase of climate variability (extreme events).

This brings ‘harmful’ impact to the heritage sites and other physical structures due to the rise of sea level, and also leads to changing of shoreline and some coastal structures, for example the areas of Shangani and Malindi in the Stone Town.

About five historic buildings collapsed in 2020 due to high unpredictable rainfall, and climate change impacts are also witnessed on water resources as there is a gradual change in the natural taste of freshwater to salinity taste.

“This has led to inadequate supply of freshwater in some areas of Stone town heritage site,” Ms Khairat Hassan Omar, a resident, says, adding that salt from the sea has a negative influence on the buildings.

She said that the wall coatings and mortar often peel off from the walls, consequently damaging the coral stones from the historic buildings, and this led to the start of a campaign project to increase awareness among residents, the Stone Town community and other stakeholders to try to safeguard the areas.

Thanks to the Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Society (ZSTHS) in collaboration with the International National Trust Organisation (INTO) for implementing a project titled ‘Withstanding change: heritage amongst climate uncertainty,’ supported by development partners, mainly the adaption and mitigation measures.

Experts explain adaptation as living with the climate change impacts but by changing the way of living, this is the most common way in developing countries, while mitigation is the process of executing plans that reduce impacts.

According to Mr Makame Juma, the ZSTHS Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and facilitator of the project which started in 2021, some of the mitigation measures that have been undertaken to safeguard the Stone Town historical sites include community involvement and engagement

“Local communities are closely involved in the processes of investigation and narrating of the impacts of climate change and the development of adaptation strategies. ZSTHS has organised such consultation meetings,” he said.

During the meetings with members of the community, he emphasised that impacts of climate change can be reduced by using adaptation and mitigation measures, and that sea wall construction was undertaken to protect seafront buildings found in some part of Stone Town, like Mizingani area, to reduce the force of the sea waves that contribute to erosion.

Tree planting campaign is another measure and an important program for climate change mitigation since trees are needed for reducing the rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“So planting trees, mainly mangrove trees at coastal areas is a priority.”

Establishment of active environmental Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and NGO’s have been emphasized to take the responsibility of creating, manage and supervise the climate change adaptations and mitigation programs or projects.

“Currently we have ‘Zanzibar Climate Change Alliance (ZCCA)’, it is doing great work on environmental conservation and protection programs,” Mr Juma explained, adding that another measure is land reclamation which has helped to safeguard the historic Beit el Mtoni Palace building which was built by the then Sultan Sayyid Said in 1828.

He argues that climate change and environment protect are not for the government alone, “Every citizen should see him/herself as a part of the solution to climate change and environment challenges.

We should, at different levels, translate such awareness into action by improving people’s perception, skills and technical strategies to reduce or control against climate change impacts to safeguard our cultural heritage sites he said.

Mr Juma elaborated that measures taken in adaptation and mitigation of climate change aim to increase local community’s capacity and involvement in heritage conservation and to promote the endangered traditional building techniques in Stone Town of Zanzibar.

He said that the trainees of the masonry training will be working on the repair of damaged lime render on the exterior walls and replacement of dilapidated mangrove poles (boriti).

“The training includes promoting the use of breathable and compatible building materials. Particular attention was given to active participation and involvement in adaptation and resilience strategies against impacts of climate change towards built heritage,” Mr Juma said.

ZSTHS also succeeded to organise and conduct workshops with schools in Stone Town, aiming at introducing heritage clubs in their schools, because it is a notable fact that many children and youths in Zanzibar have poor awareness on understanding and practicing their local culture due to various reasons, including embracing foreign cultures and neglect local ones.

A tool kit for schools’ engagement was intentionally designed to involve and engage students in different learning and performing activities like traditional fashion show, drawing competition, preparing local cuisines, singing poems, traditional dance, music, performing drama, visiting various heritage sites and visiting museums to promote domestic tourism.

The clubs will help to build the sense of patriotism and make students proud of the richness of the natural and cultural heritage in their own locality or country.

Students through their clubs will be involved not only in preserving their school environment but also get exposure in addressing their cultural heritage and challenges, including new technology, cultural diversity and globalisation.

“The heritage clubs program was introduced as a pilot program for three schools in Stone Town,” he said.

Issues of environment and climate change are under the Office of the First Vice President, where the Minister of State, Ms Harusi Said Suleiman has repeatedly emphasised “Climate change adaptation and mitigation is everyone’s business. Children, adults and leaders must take an active role in lessening its impacts.”

Students with officers of the Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Society in a souvenir photo after learning about climate change adaptation and mitigation measures

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