/ 13 June 2019

Three months after Cyclone Idai, the region desperately needs help

Residents try to salvage their belongings in the Paquite district of Pemba
Residents try to salvage their belongings in the Paquite district of Pemba, northern Mozambique. (Emidio Jozine/AFP/Getty Images)


Three months ago, Cyclone Idai hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. Homes were destroyed as the storm ripped off metal and grass roofs and caused walls to collapse, in many cases with petrified families still inside. Torrential rain washed away bridges and roads, leaving tens of thousands stranded and homeless and their livelihoods destroyed. Floodwaters quickly submerged villages and farmland, wiping away maize and other vital crops. Who is not haunted by the images of people perched on the roof of their ruined homes, waiting to be rescued?

One of the southern hemisphere’s worst natural disasters killed more than 1 000 people and left 3 million more without food, water, shelter and critical infrastructure across the three countries.

Mozambique was doubly unlucky, experiencing a second similar tragedy in Cyclone Kenneth just six weeks later; another extreme weather event that threw the country into a further round of chaos.

Three months on, the fate of the survivors and the efforts to help them rebuild their lives have all but disappeared from both the national and global media spotlight. Yet the amount of post-disaster reconstruction and recovery that needs to be done is vast.

Huge numbers of people are still homeless, with many living in makeshift tents as winter approaches. In Beira, Mozambique, and Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, among the worst hit areas, thousands remain displaced, including pregnant women, children and people with disabilities. While authorities are now focusing on the much-needed recovery and rebuilding efforts, thousands of people are still struggling to meet their basic needs. And There is a daunting challenge ahead to restore people’s access to health, education, shelter, water and sanitation. Many survivors come from rural areas and depend on agriculture and raising livestock to provide for their families. They will need help to start farming again.

A lot is at stake and the cost of reconstruction is very high. Yet the governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe cannot raise this desperately needed money on their own.

According to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) — a study of cyclone-hit areas in Mozambique, including Sofala, Manica, Tete, Zambezia, Inhambane, Nampula and Cabo Delgado — the country needs $3.2-billion for post-cyclone recovery and reconstruction. Even though donors pledged $1.2-billion to help Mozambique at a conference earlier this month, the pledges fall well short of what is needed. The United Nations’ $282-million emergency humanitarian appeal for Mozambique also remains deeply underfunded.

The international community can and must do much better. All states in a position to do so have the legal obligation to provide international assistance and cooperation to protect human rights in the affected countries.

True, Cyclone Idai was an unusually aggressive and prolonged storm. But in the face of climate change, Idai is unlikely to be a once-off. Such extreme weather events are predicted to be on the rise, exacerbating inequalities between and within countries and leaving people marginalized and living in poverty most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The increased vulnerability to natural disasters such as Idai, as seen in the three affected countries, is a result of existing patterns of exclusion and deep levels of inequality, economic or otherwise. Going forward, securing people’s economic and social rights should be an ongoing priority, not only when natural disasters have struck.

We know that some of the countries that have emitted the largest amounts of carbon dioxide per person are richer countries like the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. Because of their responsibility, they have the additional duty to step up to help Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in their hour of need. The authorities of all countries with the most responsibility and capability to act on climate change should also aim to mitigate further loss of life by devising early-warning mechanisms and other risk-reduction strategies to minimize the impact of future catastrophes and protect the rights of all.

It is clear that Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe will not be able to cope with relief and recovery on their own. It is unconscionable that the post-Idai recovery fund for these countries remains so poorly funded.

The international community must stop pretending that tackling the impacts of climate change is someone else’s responsibility.

States with most responsibility for inducing climate change should provide remedy to those whose rights to food, water, adequate housing, health and other necessities for a dignified life are being savaged by climate change. This includes increased funding of climate adaptation and post-disaster relief efforts.

Tigere Chagutah (@TigereChagutah) is the deputy director responsible for campaigns at Amnesty International Southern Africa.