Just as I am dozing off in the back seat, my body starts flopping to the beat of the bumpy road beneath me. I look up and see that it’s because our driver has turned off of the asphalt two-lane road that led us out of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and onto a dirt path that’s barely as wide as our car. Other than a few sparse, low-lying shrubs, the area is barren and appears lifeless.
“Wow,” says WWF-Mozambique water specialist Herminio Mulungo, from the front seat. It’s the first thing he’s said that I have not needed him to translate from his native Portuguese to English.
Then “wow” again. And “wow” again. And again.
Herminio gets out of the car and walks to a rusty metal rowboat perched atop dry land.
“That’s the reservoir out there,” he says, pointing to a faint glimmer of water in the distance.
This empty portion of the reservoir is a dramatic sign of how Southern Mozambique is suffering from a terrible drought. The conditions are influenced by El Nino, which in 2015 inundated the land with rain, causing severe flooding followed by an extended drought.
“Three months ago, the reservoir came all the way up to where we are standing. We would’ve been more than knee deep in water here.&rdquo
I see other signs of the drought up the road. A woman uses a plastic jug to water her small farm plot, one plant at a time. A man stands in a nearly dried up river, trying to fill up a few pails—and risking his life, as I heard many stories of people being attacked by crocodiles while trying to fetch water for their families.
We stop at a dam, and the operator shows me the water line, nearly 30 feet below what it should be. He tells me this is the second lowest he has seen the water since he started working there 25 years ago.
Interestingly, about an hour’s drive from here, nearly 50 government officials from Mozambique are packed into a small conference room and are deep into their fourth day of discussions about how to take stock of the country’s forests, rivers, mangroves and other natural assets and how they can play an important role in preventing and mitigating the impacts of droughts, enhance security from coastal storms, provide reliable drinking water, and more. They are exploring how people and nature benefit from natural assets, as well as how decisions might change if these benefits were factored into development decisions.
Those are the kinds of questions posed and pondered during the weeklong workshop hosted by WWF and the Natural Capital Project. The governments of each of the 10 provinces in Mozambique are represented, mainly by land use planners. They will play an important role in bringing to life the country’s Natural Capital Program, which is one of only several national level programs of its kind in the world. The program was created in 2015, after the country adopted a new five-year plan that includes five priorities—one of which is the sustainable management of natural resources and the environment.
The directors of the Mozambique Ministry of Land, Environment and Rural Development and Ministry of Economy and Finance kicked off the workshop. Participants are learning about spatial planning, mapping natural capital (the natural assets that provide benefits to people and wildlife), how to connect this work to environmental impact assessments, the importance of communications in building support for the Natural Capital Program, and more. They have small group discussions about what data they need and how to obtain that data. And they are using activities, like an adaptation of NatCap’s Best Coast Belize game, to begin to think about nature’s values and how those values are affected by the choices we make, such as where to build roads and resorts to minimize harms and maximize benefits.
The previous week, WWF and Natural Capital Project staff led a workshop on how to useNatCap’s InVEST software to, among other things, model coastal vulnerability and seasonal water yield, all as part of an effort to assess Mozambique’s natural capital. The workshop was for a team of students from Eduardo Mondlane University who will be responsible for gathering and assessing data that will be used to create natural capital plans in Mozambique.
“During those two weeks, a solid foundation for starting the country’s natural capital assessment was created,” said Nasser Olwero, director of Information Science at WWF’s Science and Innovation Program, a longtime member of NatCap’s WWF team, and one of the workshop leaders. “Mozambique is poised to be a leader in making informed decisions about how it grows.”
NatCap’s Lisa Mandle is also engaged in the project. “NatCap is looking forward to continuing to support Mozambique in developing and implementing its Natural Capital Program,” Mandle said. “We’re excited to share the goal of advancing sustainable, equitable development that improves human well-being through conservation and wise management of Mozambique’s natural assets.”
Jill Schwartz is a senior director of communications at World Wildlife Fund. In this role, she oversees communications related to WWF-US’ work to conserve the world’s forests and its work related to natural capital.