Mozambique: Researchers Warn Climate Change Will Hit Roads

Maputo — Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the United Nations have warned that Mozambique's infrastructure is vulnerable to extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

According to MIT's Ken Strzepek, "in developing countries - and particularly in Africa - they are building their infrastructure at a very fast rate. They are also the most vulnerable to climate change impacts like flooding".

The researchers closely studied the projected change to Mozambique's climate and found that "it was clear that flooding and sea level rise would be two critical threats to the economy, and in particular to roads needed to transport food from rural farms to city populations".

Strzepek argues that "it would make sense for the government to spend the money now to build the roads in a way that makes them less vulnerable in the future".

Published in the "Review of Development Economics", the research on Mozambique finds that "climate change through 2050 is likely to place a drag on economic growth and development prospects. The economic implications of climate change appear to become more pronounced from about 2030. Nevertheless, the implications are not so strong as to drastically diminish development prospects".

The paper points out that "economic growth is widely held to depend on the quantity, quality, and orientation of a country's backbone infrastructure", and argues that the vulnerability of future infrastructure is "to a considerable degree, a matter of choice".

The researchers found that improved economic conditions in Mozambique have been felt by most segments of the population and that "the national poverty headcount fell from 69 to 55 per cent during 1997-2009, and infant mortality rates fell from 149 to less than 100 per 1000 births during 1996-2008. Education levels have also improved dramatically".

The authors of the report point out that "with agriculture accounting for about a quarter of Gross Domestic Product and three quarters of employment, improved rural infrastructure is often viewed as critical to future economic growth and poverty reduction".

They argue that "poor infrastructure, large distances, and associated weak market development generate large differences between farm gate and urban prices for agricultural products" and point out that "reducing these marketing margins results in strong poverty reductions, particularly if agricultural productivity rises simultaneously".

The researchers looked at four different climate change scenarios. Even in the scenario where Mozambique has a reduction in rainfall, there is a small increase in flooding although there is no increase in the probability of extreme flooding. In all the other cases, including the "global dry" scenario, the probability of extreme flooding events rises dramatically.

The paper concludes that "while the analysis conducted here does not favour a prophylactic policy of upgrading the road network, it should, in many instances, be reasonably obvious which portions of road are more likely to be subjected to flooding events. The concept extends well beyond roads. Indeed, the vulnerability profile of the large majority of the capital stock in 2050 is endogenous. By gradually channelling economic activity to areas less vulnerable to climate change (e.g. flooding events and sea level rise), the vulnerability of the economy can be greatly reduced, likely at very low cost. Simply accounting for the potential implications of climate change in decisions with respect to zoning and major public investments may be sufficient to substantially reduce the vulnerability profile in 2050 and beyond, when the implications of climate change are projected to manifest themselves with much greater force".

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