Hundreds of people have been confirmed dead in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe after Cyclone Idai tore through the southern African countries on 14 and 15 March. With wind speeds reaching up to 177km/h, the United Nations has said the cyclone is potentially one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region.
James Kambaki, head of field HR at Doctors Without Borders Southern Africa told Daily Maverick on Friday that the organisation can only reach the city of Beira, which was hardest-hit by Idai, by ship and by helicopter. According to Kambaki, 90% of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed, and much of it is still under water.
Jamie LeSueur, one of the first people to lead a team from the International Federation of Red Cross, said: “The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous.”
Although the storm itself tore through the country more than a week ago, the citizens of Mozambique were still struggling to survive its effects.
“Two days ago the people reported that their reservoir of clean, treated water would last another two or three days. It’s now the third day and they need clean water still,” said Kambaki when speaking of Beira, which has a population of about 500,000 people.
First responders describe seeing victims of the storm “stranded on rooftops, in trees and other elevated areas”, Unicef spokesperson Christophe Boulierac told BBC.
The cyclone has created a humanitarian catastrophe in both Beira and other parts of southern Africa hit by the storm. With thousands still missing or injured in some of the poorest places in the world, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi will probably feel the effects of Idai for years.
But according to environmental activists Noëlle Garcin and Glen Taylor-Davies, Idai is just the start of extreme weather patterns.
“Politicians speak of global warming as if it’s a future problem, but it’s already here, it’s already happening,” said Garcin, Project Manager of Action 24, a programme that forms part of the African Climate Reality Project, “and the poor are affected the most.”
According to Taylor-Davis, South African team leader for 350 Africa, the people who are causing climate change — big corporations that burn fossil fuels and governments that support coal mining and the extractive industry –are not affected by it.
“The poor aren’t causing the problem, but they bear the brunt of climate change. They are suffering from drought, they suffer the worst in storms because they just aren’t able to build houses that can withstand storms or escape to higher ground,” Taylor-Davis told Daily Maverick.
Both Garcin and Taylor-Davis agree that climate change is unjust. Although President Cyril Ramaphosa recently launched the Good Green Deed initiative, which encourages South Africans to do one good green action per day, ordinary citizens are not the root cause of climate change.
It has been well documented that 71% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by just 100 companies. Although Garcin acknowledges that it is important for people to reduce their carbon footprint, placing the onus of climate change on regular people is not only unrealistic, it is also dangerous.
Mozambique is a prime example of the inequalities of global warming. The country ranks 180 out of 189 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, which measures education, economic prosperity and life expectancy. The country contributes a measly 0.14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Bank at least half of the population of Mozambique lives in poverty, with the divide between rich and poor quickly becoming more extreme. A legacy of colonialism and civil war has left the country unable to protect itself against extreme weather and rising ocean levels.
“Looking at Beira, this was a city that was absolutely not prepared to deal with such an event, and there are multiple reasons for that, but one of the main reasons is that it’s a poor area,” said Garcin.
“This cyclone is laying bare the fundamental injustices of climate change, and it’s something we need to talk about because this is just going to keep happening.”
Although many people, including US President Donald Trump, refuse to believe that climate change is real, the evidence is surely undeniable: Extreme weather disasters are becoming more prevalent around the world, be it Mozambique’s cyclone, South Africa’s drought or even the wildfires in California. DM
"We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings." ~ Ursula Le Guin