The Impact of Climate Change on Human Security in the Zambezi River Basin: A pre-study with a focus on the Chinde District in Mozambique and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe


  • Karin Mossberg Sonnek
  • Henric Roosberg
  • Angelica Olsson

Publish date: 2011-12-13

Report number: FOI-R--3299--SE

Pages: 74

Written in: English


  • Vulnerability
  • Climate Change
  • Human Security
  • Conflicts
  • Zambezi River Basin
  • Southern Africa
  • Mozambique
  • Zimbabwe


This study aims to deepen the understanding of the vulnerability of human security to climate change in two areas in the Zambezi River Basin, chinde District of Mozambique and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. In a preceding study by Swain et al. within the same overall programme (Climate Change, Natural Resource Governance, and Conflict Prevention in Africa), these areas have been identified as most likely to experience climate-induced conflicts in the near future since they are expected to be severely impacted by climate change and suffer from poor quality of political governance. As the next step in the programme, this study is focused on these areas since it enables an analysis at the local level, which is critical for addressing the challenges faced, and allows the comparison between two different contexts. Climate variations have throughout time affected people's living conditions in these areas. At present, the Zambezi River Basin suffers from floods, droughts and, in the coastal areas, cyclones. Each year hundreds of thousands of people in the area are affected by climate disasters resulting in the loss of lives and assets. Other consequences are displacement of people, starvation, epidemics, environmental degradation and animal attacks. People living in the Basin are dependent on the river as a vital source of drinking water, agricultural irrigation and transportation, and are therefore vulnerable to the changes in the water cycle that will be a consequence of climate change. Climate change can also be seen as a major threat to human security, exacerbating existing or latent tensions in already instable areas. Climate change is for that reason often considered a threat multiplier that increases the risk of insecurity and conflict. Interest and resources are therefore directed towards measures to adapt to climate change in order to reduce its negative impacts, and to capture the potential positive impacts. Historically, security has been associated with capabilities within the state or regime to uphold territorial security. The concept of human security emerged in the early 1990's within the United Nations Development Programme as an alternative to the traditional state-centred perspective. Human security implies that humans have access to an income, water and food in sufficient amounts, access to health service, a decent environment and are able to feel safe and live a tolerable life. This study provides an analysis of the potential impact from climate change on different categories of human security, with a focus on environmental, economic, food and health security. When studying vulnerabilities to climate change, there are various approaches to be used. In this study we have chosen the perspective of 'starting-point vulnerability', which means a focus on current vulnerabilities to climate and climate variability. Taking today's vulnerability as a starting point hopefully gives an understanding of how future vulnerabilities to climate change can be reduced. Due to this choice, future climate change is mainly treated as trends without any specific scenarios or time horizons. The potential impacts of climate change on human security are discussed in the two case study areas. Environmental security will be affected by climate change through impacts on wetland and forests, loss of biodiversity, and the quantity as well as quality of water. In the Chinde district saltwater intrusion in the delta will be a problem and in Bulawayo, climate change will put further stress on the already insecure environment, most notably as water resources become scarcer. Due to climate hazards, the economic security is expected to be lowered in both areas by, e.g., a reduced industrial production following an increased uncertainty in energy supply and potential damages on vital infrastructure. Several income sources in the Basin, such as trade in Chinde District and urban agriculture in Bulawayo will be affected by climate change. There is also a risk of increased local prices when food becomes scarce as a consequence of natural disasters. Food security could be reduced due to a decreased agricultural production, and in the Chinde district, also due to less fishing opportunities. Access to food is affected by e.g. loss of infrastructure and by higher food prices. Utilization of food, which is negatively affected by poor nutrition and health, will be more challenging primarily due to scarcity of fresh water which already is a large problem today in Bulawayo. Health security, finally, will be affected through threats to human health, in the form of e.g. vector-borne diseases in the Chinde district and outbreaks of waterborne diseases in Bulawayo due to reduced access to water and insufficient sanitation. The already insufficient health care system will be even more strained by, among other reasons, a decreased supply of safe water and infrastructure damages. Given the identified impact on human security outlined above, the possible lines of tension that may trigger conflicts are analysed and discussed. While the framework of Swain et al. explains why vulnerability is prevailing by three explanatory factors: (1) bad leaders, (2) weak institutions and (3) polarized social identities, this study aims at explaining how these vulnerabilities and challenges to human security operate in relation to conflict. This analysis shows three, non-exhaustive, possible lines of tension that could result in conflicts at different levels: a) uncoordinated management of migration flows; b) politicisation of access to services and resources; and c) an increasing repressiveness of government responses as its patronage systems of control are both undermined and further questioned as resources become scarcer. A perspective on human security and its mechanisms can facilitate efforts to detect threats of regional and local escalation and transition into conflict as well as describing threats to individuals at an early stage. In this sense, exploring aspects of deteriorating human security could provide a good starting point for identifying the need for adaptation measures and early-warning systems. In addition to traditional conflict early-warning systems, there is a need to develop indicators that register lines of tension connected to a decline in economic, food, health and environmental security. This study, based on a local level analysis, may be a foundation for such work.