Using a community-based approach to map erosion sites in the city of Pemba

December 9, 2021

Erosion sites in Pemba, Mozambique. Photo: UNDP Mozambique.

Understanding the impact of erosion in Pemba

Erosion is one of the most pressing environmental issues caused by, among other factors, frequent climate-related events such as cyclones and floods, as well as human activity.

In Pemba, a small coastal city located in the North of Mozambique with approximately 200 000 inhabitants, it is destroying the livelihoods of local communities, beginning to reach a level at which it threatens public infrastructures like roads, schools, and hospitals, as well as vast residential areas.

In this context, the Acc Lab Mozambique began to design a series of activities where it explored approaches to assess the extent and causes of erosion using participatory mapping methodologies. By combining methodologies from natural and social sciences, the Acc Lab intends to both produce data that can be utilized by policy-decision makers, as well as draw in local communities and begin to instill in them knowledge and a sense of accountability regarding human actions that have an impact on erosion.

The Acc Lab sees forecasting erosion as one of the key pillars in urban planning and disaster risk preparedness. In working to strengthen this pillar, and in line with the national Master Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction, we hope to ensure local government and community structures have the correct information to make decisions on territorial planning, capacity building, risk prevention and corrective interventions.

Driving community ownership of the erosion problem and its solutions

Community participation is a growing topic of discussion and exploration in risk and disaster management. In the case of subjects like erosion, the argument is that interdisciplinary methods involving local communities can support, and are perhaps becoming essential, to mapping and understanding its extent and causes, which then can be used to implement solutions and preventive measures.

In order to explore this, the Acc Lab Mozambique proposes to bring together technical experts, local government and affected communities to assess, plan, design and eventually implement strategies for erosion reduction and prevention. Along the way, we hope to explore methodologies to scale-up solutions from grass roots and scale down from government institutions and scientific communities in order to enhance cooperation.

Our preliminary research has shown that coordination and knowledge sharing between these 3 stakeholders is critical to developing a deeper awareness of the underlying causes and effects of erosion. In Pemba, some concrete examples of unsuccessful one-sided initiatives were a tree planting campaign along the beachfront that was ineffective after local communities removed the trees for personal use. Similarly, local community’s construction of non-authorized residential and commercial buildings in protected areas leaves vast extents of soil exposed to wind and water erosion, subsequently leaving these same communities in danger.

Building on our assumption that all three stakeholders need to participate, and that community interventions play a key role in landscape restoration, the Acc Lab proposes that this collaborative mapping exercise be used as a steppingstone to understand how community activities can actually be coordinated on the field. In regard to this, we intend to explore questions such as:

·       What partnerships need to be created to ensure projects long term success?

·       What obstacles and opportunities need to be considered to guarantee community participation and ownership of the process?

·       How and to whom should information be disseminated?

·       How to incentivize continuous involvement and application of lessons learnt?

Designing and implementing a combined methodology

When designing the activity, the Acc Lab combined methodologies from the fields of natural and social sciences. Acknowledging that this is a complex assessment, our layered approach hopes to allocate the appropriate levels of responsibility and complexity to the tasks executed by the various stakeholders.

Datasets from local institutions and international repositories will be evaluated and collated by an erosion specialist, who will also be responsible for designing the methodology to be used by local students and community members collecting erosion related data on the ground. Parallel to this, a local organization will train municipal technical teams and local communities on the use of smart phones and open-source dashboards for mapping and monitoring of erosion in the region. Lastly, a multistakeholder design sprint will serve as an opportunity to map top-down and bottom-up solutions, and explore feasible implementation plans that all parties can commit to.

This multi-pronged approach intends to ensure that the activity both has the scientific rigor needed for the mapping exercise to be used as a reference document, while simultaneously educating local communities on erosion causing factors and monitoring methodologies. In the end, a successful intervention would allow us to deliver the following:

·       creating a database, accessible to both government and civil society, in which the most updated erosion information is displayed.

·       create a mapping activity that simultaneously collects data and educates local communities on causing factors and resulting effects of erosion.

·       develop, alongside local communities and government, small scale interventions with the potential to be scaled up and counteract erosion extent in the region.

Moving forward, and as the activity continues to evolve, we hope to demonstrate how community participation- in this particular case, community mapping- can be an efficient complementary product to scientific planning, thus filling up the current collaboration gap between scientists, communities, and government (policy decision-makers).