Posted on 18 February 2021
The biggest challenge remains getting adequate and rapid response to disasters after cyclones have hit, writes Lara Muaves de Brito e Abreu
Making landfall near the city of Beira in the early hours of 23 January, Cyclone Eloise became the fourth tropical storm to devastate parts of Mozambique in less than two years. Eloise left 27 000 homes flooded; destroyed 56 000 houses and 219 000 hectares of crops, and has left 109 000 people in desperate need of humanitarian aid, according to Mozambique’s National Disaster Management Institute (INGC).
The storm, which comes hard on the heels of Tropical Storm Chalane, which struck in December, is a blow to efforts still ongoing to help the country recover from Cyclone Idai, one of the worst tropical cyclones on record. Striking in March 2019, Idai left more than 1,300 dead and many more missing across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Just as Eloise followed Chalane, so Cyclone Kenneth hit after Idai. That storm, much like Eloise, caused few direct casualties but produced impacts which were felt for long after it had passed. The deaths came later, from outbreaks of disease.
Improvements to the country’s early warning systems and immediate disaster relief from central government and donor countries means that the immediate toll from cyclones such as Eloise is not as great as it has been in the past with only 11 people killed and 18 injured.
The challenge remains responding to post-cyclone situations. Damage to housing, agriculture and infrastructure leaves the local population reeling and vulnerable. The threat of cholera, typhoid and malaria once more hangs over the thousands of Mozambicans displaced by these storms – and who still remain without permanent housing after earlier disasters. This time, of course, humanitarian aid workers have an additional challenge – COVID-19.
With meagre financial reserves, Mozambique – the world’s seventh poorest country – is dependent on international support to help it recover. And, despite initial disaster relief from the international community, support is proving inadequate to repair the infrastructure damaged or destroyed by the cyclones, to support people as they rebuild their livelihoods, and to help battered ecosystems recover.
The bitter irony, of course, is that Mozambique – in common with other least-developed countries – has done almost nothing to cause the climate change that is exacerbating catastrophic weather events such as cyclones Idai and Eloise. Our responsibility is zero – we are paying for other countries’ greed, for their mistakes.
In December 2019, I travelled to COP25 in Madrid to argue for a loss and damage mechanism within the international climate regime. This would see the rich world make finance available to help the poorest deal with the irreversible and unavoidable impacts of climate change. Madrid saw the creation of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage
to catalyse technical assistance to address the issue. COP26 in Glasgow needs to operationalise that network. Loss & Damage must be included in country national plans (Nationally Determined Contributions).
While developing countries like Mozambique are not responsible for the changing climate, they are not entirely powerless in the face of its impacts. To better understand the climate risks they face, countries like Mozambique must draw up National Adaptation Plans and submit them to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. These plans enable a country to identify their adaptation needs and develop and implement strategies and programmes to address those needs.
Ultimately, however, the developing world urgently needs the help and resources to build resilience to the next cyclones that will, inevitably, sweep in from the Indian Ocean. Without loss and damage financing at scale, countries like Mozambique will keep taking one step forward, only to be blown two steps back.
*As we publish this story, Reuters is reporting
that tropical storm Guambe is strengthening to a cyclone, and is approaching Mozambique, "making it the third storm to hit the country’s coast in as many months ‘making the low-lying areas in the country particularly vulnerable”.
Lara Muaves de Brito e Abreu is Senior Marine Officer at WWF-Mozambique