Need for Loss & Damage resolution underscored as tropical storms devastate Mozambique

Posted on 18 February 2021

While decarbonization and nature-based disaster risk reduction must continue to be top of mind, climate impacts continue to happen around the world making adequate and rapid humanitarian response an imminent global need, 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.   

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,” says Lara Muaves, a Mozambican who works for WWF in Maputo as a senior marine officer.

Improvements to the country’s early warning systems means that the immediate toll from cyclones such as Eloise is not as great as it has been in the past, says Muaves, with only 11 people killed and 18 injured.

While all preventive measures are exhausted, the  challenge remains to respond 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,” says Muaves.

In December 2019, Muaves 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 operationalize that network.

While developing countries like Mozambique are not responsible for the changing climate, they are not entirely powerless in the face of its impacts. To understand and better cope with 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.

To fully embrace and scale effective preventive solutions such as nature-based disaster risk reduction measures, 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 and, loss and damage finance to face the unavoidable. 

Lara Muaves de Brito e Abreu is Senior Marine Officer at WWF-Mozambique

Cyclone damage in Mozambique.
© Lara Muaves / WWF-Mozambique