Apocalyptic extreme weather event strikes four African countries


Tropical Cyclone Idai approaching the Sofala province of Mozambique. Photo credit: NASA’s Aqua satellite – EOSDIS Worldview, via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

Across four African countries, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Madagascar, a cyclone has caused the kind of havoc one expects to see in apocalyptic sci-fi films. And, dramatically, it made landfall not once but twice. The prolonged weather event lasted from the 4th to 21st of March and caused a high number of fatalities and economic damage.

Cyclone Idai has left a trail of destruction in the four countries, hitting Mozambique worst. The president of Mozambique expects that the death tally could significantly increase as time passes. It has already risen to 417 from the original 84 fatalities and is expected to rise to more than a 1,000. He flew over the flooded area seeing the destruction for himself and described how entire villages had disappeared and that bodies floated in the water.

In Zimbabwe, the cyclone has killed 259 people. In Malawi, the death toll as a result of continuing heavy rains and flooding stood at 56 as of last week. In Madagascar, one person has died. No updated numbers have yet been released. It is hard to get any kind of precise numbers as to how many people are still missing, but it is estimated that the cyclone has affected at least 2.8 million people across the region. It is also too early to speculate about the economic costs, but one can expect the number to be trillions rather than millions.

In Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city and home to 500,000 people, a large dam has burst, further complicating rescue efforts. Large swathes of land are completely submerged, and in some streets, people waded through knee-high water around piles of mangled metal and other debris.

So far, Zimbabwe’s treasury has released $18 million to rebuild roads and bridges, provide water and sanitation and electricity. The Harare government has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm. Zimbabwe, a country of 15 million people, was already suffering from a severe drought that had wilted crops.

In Malawi, vast areas of land were flooded, roads were destroyed and communications wiped out.

As access improves, we will hear more stories about the destruction caused and the scale of the disaster.

While it is true you can’t link any specific weather event to climate change, one thing you can say is that climate change is contributing to a pattern of the more extreme and severe weather events that we have seen emerge in recent years. This is in line with what climate science explains and predicts as the planet continues to warm. Cyclone Idai also impacted the countries that have done the least to cause climate change, but who will suffer the most. The infrastructure is not robust enough to cope with today’s extreme weather, nor with what future climate change events might involve.

You can donate to the Cyclone Idai Emergency Appeal here.


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