Adaptation Cannot Wait: Witnessing Climate Change and Conflict in Zanzibar

A team from the Conflict Prevention Program has just completed a one-week inception mission to Zanzibar, marking the start of its 30-month project on the Governance of Climate Adaptation in SIDS.

Zanzibar is the primary case study for this project. This semi-autonomous region of Tanzania is struggling with the immediate impacts of climate change and poverty. The project will address these two inter-related aspects. On the one hand, it aims to contribute to sound climate change adaptation strategies and reduce risks associated with natural disasters. On the other hand, it seeks to support Zanzibar to develop its economy in a sustainable manner.

The first main objective of the inception mission was to consult with relevant local stakeholders and to gain their interest and commitment to the project. This was achieved through a series of meetings with high-level representatives from the First Vice President’s Office, Ministry of Finance, Zanzibar Planning Commission, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, and Ministry of Land, Housing, Water and Energy. It was interesting to learn about their perceptions and awareness of the challenges.

Barren agricultural land that once produced rice.

There was no shortage of enthusiasm expressed by the stakeholders towards close collaboration with the project team in the years to come. The team was pleased to see the timeliness of and the demand for the project verified by those that work on climate change issues on a daily basis. The participatory planning approach to be piloted by this project could also serve as a model for policy development in various areas of Zanzibar. The commitment and interest in collaboration between The Hague Institute and the First Vice President’s Office, the key local partner of the project, has been formalized in a signed Memorandum of Understanding.

Download the Inception Report

The second main objective was to identify hotspots that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. These hotspots should also exhibit potential for interpersonal, inter-community, and inter-sectoral conflicts. The project team visited six locations on the eastern, western, northern and southern parts of the main island of Unguja. None of these locations has been spared from the severe impacts of climate change. Each location, however, has been touched by climate change in different ways. Examples of impacts include saltwater intrusion on previously fertile agricultural lands, seawater inundation that has already destroyed or weakened houses, beach erosion that affects properties of the tourism industry, and the depletion of fish stock that artisanal fishermen depend on.

Failed defence to combat beach erosion.

The observation by the team was also corroborated with interviews with local villagers and tourism business owners. There was a distinct need for more adaptation efforts from the government and the villagers themselves. Apart from technical solutions, more effective arrangements to govern the physical interventions are also required. Based on the field visits, the team narrowed down the hotspots to three locations where the impacts are representative of those occurring across many parts of Zanzibar. The baseline assessment, running from February to June 2015, will now focus on these three hotspots.

There was no doubt from the team’s experience there that Zanzibar cannot afford to wait when it comes to climate change adaptation. The inception mission overall confirmed the potential of the project to directly impact on local needs. It also enabled the team to tailor the project even further to reflect local capacities and culture. Finally, the mission allowed the team to better connect to existing efforts by bilateral donors and international agencies.

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