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OPINION: Let's seize the opportunity for resilience in storm-hit Mozambique

by Mami Mizutori | UNDRR
Wednesday, 29 May 2019 14:21 GMT

Buildings damaged during Cyclone Kenneth are seen from the air in a village north of Pemba, Mozambique, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The world is an increasingly fragile place, especially for countries like Mozambique which lack resources to adapt to climate change

*Mami Mizutori is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Mozambique and the city of Beira do not want to go down in history as the beginning of the end for those who continue to live in hope that action on climate change will soon become evident in a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe could have been hit by a category 3 storm in March even without global warming. But we’ll never know because as the WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2018 confirmed, the last four years have been the hottest on record, and to divorce Cyclone Idai from that reality would be extremely foolish.

The same applies to Cyclone Kenneth which struck six weeks later. The twin storms left more than 1,000 people dead, and affected some three million more including hundreds of children who remain separated from their parents and are living with relatives or in temporary shelters.

The one certainty we have come to know in this era of climate change is that unpredictability is all around us when it comes to the weather.

Mozambique, like much of the southern African coastline, is now vulnerable not only to rising sea levels in the southern Indian Ocean but is facing the frightening prospect that warming seas are making events like Cyclone Idai more likely, despite the brake imposed by the protective land mass of Madagascar.

Many factors play a role in a disaster of this magnitude which results in hundreds dead, thousands injured, cholera outbreaks, many displaced and homeless, crops destroyed, health facilities and schools damaged beyond repair, and roads and transport links collapsed.

Drivers include poverty, the rapid pace of urbanisation which is difficult to control in low and middle-income countries, the destruction of protective eco-systems such as mangrove forests, and population growth in low-lying areas close to the sea.

Over the last two decades, the world has also seen an inexorable rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events which seems to be in lock-step with the year-on-year rise in greenhouse gas emissions despite the Paris Agreement and the existence of a global plan to reduce disaster losses, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Four years have passed since both were adopted, along with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for which they are key instruments. Those four years have seen economic losses continue to soar alongside widespread drought, wildfires, floods, storms and heatwaves.

One event stands out in the experience of southern Africa and Mozambique - and that was one of the most powerful El Niño events on record in 2015/16, which, combined with the effects of climate change and desertification, led to a regional drought emergency across southern Africa affecting the food security of some 40 million people.

The world is becoming an increasingly fragile place, especially for those countries like Mozambique which lack the resources to adapt to climate change in a manner that will reduce the scale of future loss of life and eradicate poverty.  

There is now an important opportunity to focus on resilience, building back better and future-proofing infrastructure against climate risk in Mozambique as donors meet in Beira later this week.

Serious consideration must also be given to supporting the country’s meteorological services to introduce a nationwide system of impact-based weather forecasting with a focus on what the weather will do, rather than simply what it will be.