12 November 2017

Mozambique: Should Welfare Recipients Be First in Line for Scarce Climate Adaptation Cash?

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In Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries, the government provides modest welfare payments to those most in need, including the disabled, families headed by children and people unable to work.

But the southern African country increasingly requires a new kind of help, to assist those flattened by more extreme weather linked to climate change, including floods, drought and cyclones that barrel in along its long Indian Ocean coastline.

Assistance for families dealing with weather disasters, after they happen, has long come from aid agencies and other humanitarian relief groups. But as climate change brings more frequent and severe shocks, what's needed instead are stronger efforts to reduce the risks, in part by helping communities adapt to climate change pressures, officials say.

Who should get the limited money available? Officials of Mabote district, in Mozambique's southern Inhambane province, think it should go to those most vulnerable - the ones already getting welfare payments.

The district in September drew up a plan to target climate change adaptation efforts in areas with the highest welfare payments, said Simon Anderson, a researcher at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

The idea - in a district where 65 percent of households are run by women - is that helping people find sources of income beyond basic farming, or putting safe, reliable and drought-proof sources of drinking water into schools can cut not only disaster risk but overall poverty.

Welfare or "social protection" programmes look narrowly at individuals and households, whereas adaptation with a broader focus on the poor can benefit not just those receiving welfare payments but others like them who are not getting help, Anderson said.

The plan has been so well-received, Anderson said, that two other districts in Mozambique already have rewritten their climate adaptation plans to adopt the model - and others are looking at doing the same.

KICKING THE AID HABIT

Other countries are exploring similar innovations, said experts at a Development and Climate Days event on the sidelines of the U.N. climate talks in Bonn this week.

In Africa's Sahel, for instance, the World Bank hopes to create weather "triggers" - based on days of drought, for instance - that would trigger automatic extra payments to welfare recipients when conditions get bad, said Margaret Arnold, a social development specialist with the bank.

Such payments could help the poorest families in countries like Mali get through hard times without having to sell their animals or pull children out of school, for instance, said Julie Arrighi, who works on efforts to reduce disaster risk for the Red Cross.

But winning support for change in a region long dependent on humanitarian aid is a challenge, Arnold said.

Some governments in the Sahel are used to the way things currently work and don't want to give up their dependence on aid agencies. To change that will require "some political will", she said.

"It's an existential threat to the humanitarian system, and sometimes people don't want to talk about that," she said.

Governments also fear criticism for releasing money before a disaster, not least because they can never be sure it's actually going to happen. "People say, 'Why would we do all this based on a forecast?'" Arnold said.

But Colin McQuistan, a disaster prevention expert with charity Practical Action, said the risks of making unneeded payments to help the very poor shouldn't be a big worry.

"If you're putting the money out, even if a disaster doesn't happen, it's still beneficial to the community anyway," he noted.

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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