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Keywords:

  • Mozambique;
  • Lower Zambezi River;
  • political ecology;
  • narrative;
  • climate change;
  • involuntary resettlement

In recent years, the potential role of planned, internal resettlement as a climate change adaptation measure has been highlighted by national governments and the international policy community. However, in many developing countries, resettlement is a deeply political process that often results in an unequal distribution of costs and benefits among relocated persons. This paper examines these tensions in Mozambique, drawing on a case study of flood-affected communities in the Lower Zambezi River valley. It takes a political ecology approach – focusing on discourses of human–environment interaction, as well as the power relationships that are supported by such discourses – to show how a dominant narrative of climate change-induced hazards for small-scale farmers is contributing to their involuntary resettlement to higher-altitude, less fertile areas of land. These forced relocations are buttressed by a series of wider economic and political interests in the Lower Zambezi River region, such as dam construction for hydroelectric power generation and the extension of control over rural populations, from which resettled people derive little direct benefit. Rather than engaging with these challenging issues, most international donors present in the country accept the ‘inevitability’ of extreme weather impacts and view resettlement as an unfortunate and, in some cases, necessary step to increase people's ‘resilience’, thus rationalising the top-down imposition of unpopular social policies. The findings add weight to the argument that a depoliticised interpretation of climate change can deflect attention away from underlying drivers of vulnerability and poverty, as well as obscure the interests of governments that are intent on reordering poor and vulnerable populations.