Op-ed (Compilation of Act Ubumbano Writers’ perspectives)
Cyclone Freddy was flagged on the 4th of February 2023 and went on a run of destruction across the South Eastern parts of Africa, causing a loss of close to 600 lives in Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Mauritius. This cyclone, the longest ever on record, lasted over 5 weeks, testament to the continually worsening natural disasters caused in this age of climate variability. While some may still doubt, the reality is climate change effects are already here. With that awareness and the fairly early warning given, it is concerning that such a loss of life was witnessed. Following, questions have been raised on the state of preparedness in the region, especially considering the recent disasters such as Cyclone Idai which were supposed to serve as lessons. Issues of concern are explored below.
Insufficient detection infrastructure
First it should be acknowledged that by their nature, disasters such as cyclones only allow limited time between detection and striking land. However, there are departments of Meteorology set up across the globe who seek to give a fair chance through early warning systems. This is the first line of defence. As such, countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should invest in updating their equipment to be able to give their citizens their best chance. Even after this warning is given, lessons have shown that the SADC region scientists are unable to properly predict and plan for future crises due to insufficient infrastructure to track rainfall patterns. Izidine Pinto, a climatologist at the University of Cape Town notes,
“While we saw that climate change played a role in Madagascar and Mozambique, we could not quantify, mostly because of missing comprehensive records of rainfall…researchers did not have access to station data from Madagascar or Malawi at all, and of the 23 weather stations used in Mozambique, only 4 had sufficient data.’’
If we can’t track the apparent changes then we will continue to suffer the consequences of climate variability!
Disaster Response Financing
Cyclone Freddy has displaced over half a million people in Malawi while over 500 Malawians lost their lives. Just over a year ago (January 2022), cyclone Ana displaced 200 000 people while in 2015, 300 000 were displaced by intense flooding. This points to a trend which experts have pointed is a sign of cyclone change. How then are the numbers increasing instead of reducing if we acknowledge the threat that is climate change. This is a clear indicator of insufficient disaster preparedness. Indeed, there is a resource factor to the capacity of countries to react to these crises but in the broader political climate of corruption and abuse of public resources, one can be convinced that we could be prepared if we allocated resources adequately and every dollar goes the full distance instead of enriching the elite. As such, our national annual budgets should start to reflect the need for preparation in case of emergencies so we are not found wanting when they occur.
Reactive vs Proactive response policy
We are clearly not doing enough to prepare for disasters before the fact and this is the reason why we have high impact of disasters. Yes, to achieve preparedness is a collective responsibility with government being the main stakeholder but many factors have affected the implementation of disaster preparedness including lack of robust strategies and poor funding towards preparedness. For one, citizens are also not cooperating with complying with statutes to reduce the causes of climate variability. Citizens look at short-term benefits of continuing to pollute or contribute to emissions rather than clean energy because they perceive daily challenges as more pressing (an understandable reaction). However, it should be understood that we should start fighting the disasters of tomorrow today to ensure they are reduced or do not occur at all. As such the responsibility also lies with citizens.
Faced by reduced gas production due to supply chain issues during COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war, some European countries started to revert to coal mines that had been decommissioned as a response to climate variability. This is a discouraging fact which shows insincerity of the nations that are fronting the climate conversation. If they can do this without recourse, then there is no justice to the mandate of clean energy they are placing on Less Developed Countries (LDC’s) to reduce carbon their footprint. Mind you, these nations are able to fare better under the threat of variability as they have stronger economies ironically built on carbon heavy energy. Stringent measures should be put in place to ensure European countries can’t break climate commitments!
- Develop culture of prevention and resilience: Government, civil society and the media should do to finance the climate change agenda. This will include increased advocacy on the harmful practices we carry out that induce climate change such as use of fossil energy. Small steps such as planting trees should also be continued as they have a lasting impact for generations to come.
- Improve early warning and response systems: Outdated warning systems can only help so much. Governments in SADC and individual countries should invest in procuring proficient systems especially made more available in the digital era.
- Map and avoid high risk area: Certain spots especially in coastal areas are at a greater risk of flooding disasters amongst other threats. Whilst these areas were livable before, now they are high risk areas and should be designated as such so that the resident citizens are moved to safer areas.
- Increased Climate Justice Conversations: Enforceable sanctions should be placed on countries that fall back on carbon footprint commitments especially the Developed countries.