by Mairead Heffron
UNV Volunteer in Mozambique
“We have a problem,” I am informed, “there is no bus leaving Mopeia today”.
It is 5am, Sunday 18th October, and we are standing on the deserted main street of the dusty district town of Mopeia, Zambezia. At some point between Saturday evening and now, the chapa (minibus) owner decided it was time to service the vehicle, and so, for a moment, it looks like there is a disruption to the schedule of my fellow travellers: graduates from the University of Eduardo Mondlane (UEM), in Maputo, who are in Zambezia to collect information on disaster related losses, as part of a UNDP sponsored project, and who will travel onwards, to many more districts before their work is completed.
The project is the GRIP – Global Risk Identification Project, a programme supported by UNDP/BCPR which provides a framework to systemically organise and record data relating to disaster losses and disaster risk, with the aim of using the resulting data and analyses to inform strategies and design of disaster risk management programmes and activities in high-risk countries.
For Mozambique, this means, among other activities, the establishment of a national data loss observatory for compilation and analysis of disaster losses. All of these activities are being co-ordinated through the National Disaster Management institute (INGC), with the support of the university.
It is this GRIP project which brings me to Zambezia, to view the historical data collection field work being conducted by three teams of university graduates, and technicians from INGC who have been assigned to work directly with the teams as they travel throughout the country on this mission. By the end of December, each district in the country will have received a visit from one of these groups, and numerous institutions will have opened the doors to their archives to allow the teams to sift through reams of material, and to record losses (both human and economic) from cyclones, floods and drought to elephants, crocodiles and locusts.
Travel conditions in Mozambique do not make this an easy task logistically: transport in some districts is unreliable and uncomfortable; in other areas, it is non-existent. The groups have various experiences to recount: They have taken boats across crocodile infested rivers and have discovered that in certain parts of Mozambique, the most direct route between districts occasionally takes the traveller through neighbouring Malawi and back again!
Aside from the question of these ‘challenging’ logistics, gathering the information itself is also not always a straightforward task. The archives themselves are often in disarray, but even where they are not, there is frequently a scarcity of information going back more than 10 years, record keeping is not systematic, and reports produced on disaster losses often lack numerical data.
Despite these constraints, much valuable information has thus far been gathered, and the team members confirm that it has been a worthwhile challenge, and an experience which has allowed them to know their own country better, to view first-hand and to understand more clearly the problems faced by people living in the most rural areas.
The work does not end with Zambezia though, and so I return to Maputo, where other GRIP activities are ongoing, including an assessment of disaster risk related studies already available, and a seismic risk assessment for Maputo city. I leave the groups to continue their work, hoping that the only crocodiles they encounter for the remainder of the project will be in the archives, and that the only floods they are exposed to will be a flood of information.