From Dhaka to Freetown, climate migration puts cities on alert
By Kim Harrisberg and Carey L Biron/Beira, Mozambique/Washington
When Mozambican fishmonger Manuel Machava hears that the fishermen have landed a bumper catch of mackerel, crabs or prawns, he has mixed feelings – happy for their good fortune, but worried about how he can sell their catch before it does. perish.
More than three years after Cyclone Idai devastated the fish market in the city of Beira, Machava and other traders continue to do business in ill-equipped makeshift plastic shelters offering little respite from the scorching sun .
“We are losing up to two tons of fresh produce a day,” said Machava, 52, coordinator of the Beira fishing community, from inside the Praia Nova fish market, which now needs to be repaired thanks to a grant aimed at helping cities tackle climate-related displacement.
The fishing community of Beira – a mainstay of the local economy – was hit hard by Idai, which killed hundreds of people across southern Africa, displacing thousands more and causing millions of dollars of damage in poor countries, including Mozambique.
Idai has been followed by three other tropical cyclones to date.
Now officials in the Indian Ocean town plan to use the new funding to try to relocate hundreds of fishing families threatened by future flooding – encouraging them to move to safer ground with promises new equipment, refrigerators and road access.
Their efforts reflect a growing global concern about how extreme weather fueled by climate change – storms, droughts and floods – is pushing millions of people from their homes.
At a UN meeting last month, governments came together for the first time to consider a 2018 global agreement on migration, with mayors from cities around the world meeting on the sidelines to discuss their experiences of climate-related displacement.
Around 2,000 people are arriving in Bangladesh’s capital every day, driven from their homes by rising sea levels and flooding of farmland, said Dhaka North Mayor Mohamed Atiqul Islam, one of the nearly a dozen mayors who attended the forum in New York.
The influx creates an opportunity for the city’s future economic growth, but also poses many short-term challenges, he said.
“(It) creates additional pressure on our environment and our ability to provide services…Where are they going to stay?” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
Islam’s administration receives support from the Bangladeshi government, but he said cities like his do not have direct access to global climate finance, especially for adaptation measures, and need support. a greater say in how to react to sudden changes in population.
Climate change could drive 216 million people to move within their countries by mid-century, including 86 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone, according to a World Bank estimate last year.
Yet while many national governments continue to view climate migration as a problem for the future, according to analysis by the Center for Global Development, a US-based think tank, city officials around the world say it’s already wreaking havoc.
“That’s the reality,” Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr said by phone. “Women who used to be farmers… are (now) living in informal settlements trying to sell mangoes because they can no longer support themselves.”
Sierra Leone’s capital has limited capacity to respond, she said, being crippled in access to finance and even local regulation, with issues such as land-use planning and building permits supervised by the national government.
“But when the floods happen, (local residents) turn to the city council,” said Aki-Sawyerr, who along with other mayors took those concerns to UN officials in New York.
Beira was one of five cities facing climate displacement to receive funding from the Mayors’ Migration Council (MMC), an advisory body led by mayors that met on the sidelines of the United Nations meeting last month.
Five more will be announced at the COP27 climate summit in November.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of local leaders in meeting the needs of migrants, including those compelled to move by climatic factors, said Colleen Thouez, senior fellow at The New School of New York who works on these questions for years.
“We no longer convince (world leaders) of the importance of having the voice of mayors – the UN invites them and recognizes their central role as carriers of solutions,” she said.
Covid-19 emergency policies may also have influenced thinking about how to handle sudden influxes of migrants, Thouez said, citing a greater drive to expand access to health and education as an example. social assistance to people without the necessary documents.
At the Beira Fish Market, the orange sunset is visible through a space where the roof once stood. Some of the remaining metal rafters dangle precariously to the ground, a reminder of the devastation of the 2019 cyclone.
Some $200,000 from the MMC fund will now be used to repair the fish market and initially relocate 100 families living in flood-prone areas to less vulnerable fishing neighborhoods in Beira, with the possibility of relocating hundreds more.
Unlike other aid, MMC directly funds municipal governments to “implement projects of their own design”, said Samer Saliba, the organization’s practice manager, noting that Beira Mayor Albano Carige, submitted the fish market project.
“His administration will receive and use the funds independently,” Saliba added.
In his office in the city council buildings on Market Road, Carige said he hoped life could finally return to normal for fishermen, fishmongers and their families in Beira.
He is also keen to share his city’s climate adaptation lessons with other local government officials around the world and ensure that Beira is better placed to deal with future climate-related threats.
“Beira is a vulnerable city,” Carige said.
“In the future, I don’t want to stress when we hear that a disaster is coming. I want to feel that we are strong enough to adapt to climate change,” he added. —Thomson Reuters Foundation