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Southern Africa/Global: Cyclone Idai and Climate Justice

AfricaFocus Bulletin
March 22, 2019 (190322)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

A week after Cyclone Idai struck the coast of Mozambique near Beira, there are still people awaiting rescue from treetops and roofs. The death toll, with confirmed deaths numbering in the high hundreds, is still unknown, with the largest number in Mozambique, and still devastating numbers in Zimbabwe and Malawi as well. The full impact has been slow to emerge, but it is finally gaining more attention from world media.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts and links under three topics: strategic ways to contribute, sources for updates, and the issue of climate change and climate justice.

For quick overviews of the situation, check out these short videos.

Guardian, March 19, 2019 – 2-minute video overview

ENCA, Rescue operations in Buzi, Mozambique, March 20, 2019 – 3- minute video

Deutsche Welle, March 20, 2019 – 5-minute video

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on climate change and the environment, visit

For extensive ongoing updates, see and

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Strategic ways to contribute

This list is selective and far from complete. If you know an international relief organization that you trust, it is likely that they are there by now. And, if you have contacts with other organizations working on the ground, you may want to use those channels. These are a few strategic suggestions, taking into account the ongoing need to strengthen organizations that dealing not only with the immediate crisis but with recovery and preparation for the next crises.

The United Nations has an essential role in response to emergencies. Its coordinating body for this is UNOCHA.

To contribute for Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi go to

You can also donate through a 5 times match to UNICEF (through May 10) at

Doctors without Borders, as is often the case, was one of the first international agencies on the ground in Beira. To contribute for Cyclone Idai go to

Health Alliance International has been working in Mozambique, with the Ministry of Health for over 30 years, and has staff in Beira. Contribute at

The Mozambican organization Alternactiva has launched a crowdfunding campaign, in partnership with Mozambique Peasants Union (UNAC) and Forum Mulher, with a particular focus on supporting recovery by peasants and women in Sofala province. Contribute at

Unidos por Beira

A group of volunteers in Maputo, who as of yesterday had coordinated collection of goods for Beira and packed them into containers (approximately 700 tons) that will depart for Beira by ship tomorrow.

They can be supported by transfers to the following bank account at Standard Bank in Maputo. Unidos por Beira, Account holder: Kwe Trading, Bank: Standard Bank, NIB: 0003 0118 0683483100758, IBAN: MZ59 000301180683483100758, Swift: SBICMZMX

International bank account transfers can be difficult and expensive, particularly from the United States. But a new on-line service makes it much more convenient, and can be done with a credit or debit card. In addition to the bank details above, one also requires a mobile phone number for the recipient to be notified. See the instructions for Mozambique, Zimbabws, and Malawi at the following links. In the reason for the transfer check family or friend support.

Zimbabwe Cyclone Relief
See Facebook post by Alex Magaisa

Malawi Red Cross
Background on fundraising organization

Satellite maps

University of Edinburgh researchers Ryan Casey and Sam Bowers have used radar satellite imagery which can see through clouds to map the flooding. Their detailed maps, including the third map below. show a band of flooding 100 km long from south of Buzi to northwest of Dondo and Beira. and Their website is


Briefing: The response to Cyclone Idai

New Humanitarian (formerly IRIN), March 21, 2019

Sumayya Ismail, Africa Editor

Vittoria Elliott, Freelance journalist

Nearly a week since Cyclone Idai struck three of the most vulnerable countries in Southern Africa, needs are rising and humanitarians still don’t have a full picture of the extent of the disaster. Aid access is one of the biggest challenges and cholera is a major concern.

More than a million people in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe have been affected by what the UN called a “massive disaster”. Its emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, said “the situation is likely to deteriorate, and the number of people affected is likely to increase”.

Mozambique was the first country hit. Some reports estimate 90 percent of Beira, the fourth largest city, with more than 500,000 residents, may be damaged or destroyed. But Médecins Sans Frontières said “it’s still too early” to have a complete overview of the situation as many areas remain cut off and inaccessible by road. Rain and heavy winds continue, so reaching certain areas by air or sea is a challenge. The storm also destroyed most of Beira’s telecoms infrastructure, making it difficult to get word out of the affected areas.

“I am able to say that all health centres and hospitals have been affected,” said Caroline Rose, MSF’s head of mission in Mozambique, expressing concern about the growing health needs, especially the risk of waterborne diseases, including cholera. “Several health centres have lost their roofs and are in very, very bad condition.”

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, “the situation we are seeing now isn’t fully clear,” agreed Mildred Makore, Mercy Corps director of programmes in the country. “Chimanimani, which is the worst-hit district, is still inaccessible. Evaluations are going on… and we may be overwhelmed when we have true access.”

Here’s a round-up of what we know about the humanitarian needs and response.

What is the scale of the disaster?

Late on 14 March, Cyclone Idai made landfall off the coast of Mozambique, before continuing to Zimbabwe and Malawi, causing widespread devastation across parts of the three countries.

The scale of damage in Mozambique is “massive and horrifying”, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. Tens of thousands lost their homes; roads, bridges, and crops were washed away; and people remain trapped on roofs awaiting rescue as parts of Beira are still under water.

More than 100,000 people needed emergency evacuation in Beira and surrounding areas in Buzi District. Although the official death toll is just over 200, Mozambique’s president estimated more than 1,000 people may have been killed. So far, 1,500 are injured and 17,000 displaced.

These photos from Buzi (above)were taken by Mozambique´s National Institute of Disaster Management (INGC)

In Zimbabwe, floods destroyed 600 homes, affecting an estimated 15,000 people. So far, more than 100 people have been reported dead, 200 are injured, and another 200 are still missing.

Malawi has reported 57 dead and more than 500 injured. More than 94,000 people are estimated to have been displaced and some 840,000 people have been affected, according to the government.

Although water levels have subsided a bit in Zimbabwe and Malawi, flooding continues in Mozambique and hundreds of thousands remain at risk. There are also growing concerns about the overflow of the Marowanyati Dam in Zimbabwe, which threatens to increase water levels in Mozambique.

Heavy rain and flooding before the cyclone hit had claimed more than 120 lives and affected 1.5 million people in the region, the UN said. Malawi and Mozambique are both prone to extreme weather events, such as the floods that left hundreds dead in both countries in 2015. While parts of Zimbabwe are under water, other parts are in the midst of El Niño-induced drought, which has caused a severe food crisis.

How were people impacted?

The World Food Programme estimates that 1.7 million people in Mozambique alone were along the path of the cyclone when it hit.

MSF described the scene as “destruction – and a lot of water”, saying that electricity, telecommunication lines, and main roads leading into Beira remain cut off, with houses and buildings submerged, and hospitals severely damaged.

Search and rescue operations are continuing, but many people remain unreachable. Those who made it out of affected areas are living informally in schools, churches, or sometimes just out in the open, where they face the risk of respiratory infections and other diseases. With people exposed to the elements “all the small problems will become big problems”, MSF’s Rose said.

In Nsanje, one of Malawi’s worst-hit districts, “houses fell down completely or partially, and a lot of toilets and kitchens went down,” said Ilse Casteels, MSF’s head of mission in the country. “Because of the floods people moved to higher areas, regrouping in churches and centres and schools. For the moment there are a lot of families staying there,” she said, even though some people have returned home to start rebuilding as the flood waters recede.

In Malawi and Zimbabwe, people lost their homes but also their livelihoods when the floods destroyed their crops. Many of those affected in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands are small-scale farmers, Mercy Corps’ Makore said. As a result worsening food security will be a major concern in the months ahead.

An estimated “200,000 are in need of urgent food assistance for the next three months in Zimbabwe,” the WFP said, with Chimanimani the hardest hit.

Who is responding?

UN agencies, local and international aid organisations, and foreign countries have intervened or sent funds to assist the humanitarian response. Many others are in the process of raising donations.

The WFP aims to provide food assistance to some 600,000 people in Mozambique and 650,000 people in Malawi. MSF is providing emergency medical care in affected regions and, in Mozambique and Malawi, it has prioritised continuity of care for vulnerable HIV and tuberculosis patients who were being treated before the disaster struck.

In Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani district, where severe flooding wiped out roads and bridges and left the area accessible only by helicopter, the International Rescue Committee has set up a mobile clinic and is distributing food and specialised kits for women. Mercy Corps has been focusing on water, hygiene, and sanitation services.

In Mozambique, the Indian Navy and the South African Air Force have been assisting the government’s search and rescue operation. Meanwhile, aid organisations are estimating a long road to recovery.

The World Health Organization is sending three months’ of supplies for 10,000 people. CARE is working with the government of Mozambique to provide seeds and livestock to replenish farms that have been decimated by flooding.

The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, known as CERF, has allocated $20 million to ramp up the humanitarian response across the three countries. The UK is donating almost $24 million, the EU close to $4 million, and the African Union $350,000. Tanzania said it was sending urgent relief supplies, including tonnes of medicine and food.

What are the humanitarian needs/gaps?

Access to potable drinking water, shelter, food, and healthcare are the priorities, aid groups say, with water, sanitation, and hygiene needs particularly urgent as the risk of waterborne diseases is the major concern across the board.

“In Beira, we fear a huge cholera outbreak soon,” said MSF’s Rose. “The main challenges will be [getting treatment] for people who don’t understand they have cholera, and that it’s urgent, or people who are not reachable, or people who cannot reach health centres.”

Given that areas are still cut off, this is a real concern. To mitigate the challenges, MSF will attempt a “decentralised system with small cholera centres in many zones,” Rose said. “We cannot ask people to go to big centres. We will have to be in the communities where they are.”

Zimbabwe has been in the midst of a cholera outbreak since last year. Mercy Corps, which has been assisting with the response, is concerned that recent events will worsen the crisis.

“Our major concern is that the water bodies have been contaminated, because the latrines have been destroyed,” Makore said. “We are concerned because there can be an ensuing disaster following that, related to the waterborne diseases,” including cholera and typhoid, as well as malaria.

“We have to make sure the affected population has access to clean water,” she said, adding that a lot more support is required to help those affected in Zimbabwe - from immediate lifesaving aid to longer-term support for communities who will need to rebuild.

In Malawi, MSF’s Casteels said the most urgent need is clean, potable water, after many boreholes were affected by the flooding. She also expressed concern about cholera and malaria spreading in the coming weeks.

“The biggest concern that you hear is about food. Access to food now, but also in the future. People are really afraid crops are affected. And because the country is so dependent on agriculture, that’s a big concern.”

What are the longer-term issues?

Mercy Corps’ Makore said the priority should be resiliencebuilding for affected communities.

“Contextually, for Zimbabwe right now, we have got two natural disasters at the same time. The El Niño-induced drought and now this [flooding]... Whatever produce was available was washed away, and livestock was also washed away,” she said.

“Right now, we need to speak about food security, which was already an issue, but now we need to think beyond that because of the potential for disease outbreaks, shelter concerns, displacement. So I think we have a huge task ahead of us as organisations.”

In Malawi, Casteels raised similar concerns. “The biggest concern that you hear is about food,” she said. “Access to food now, but also in the future. People are really afraid crops are affected. And because the country is so dependent on agriculture, that’s a big concern.”

Based on the aftermath of previous disasters that have affected Mozambique, MSF’s Rose said: “it will take years to rebuild the town [of Beira]”.

“This will have the worst impact on those most vulnerable,” she said. “It’s those who have small, fragile houses that are worst impacted, as they are always the people without the means to build a new house. So it’s a vicious cycle. Those who have no means to rebuild will be left outside with no house, more at risk of disease and worse off."

"The situation is already complicated and it will continue to be, especially for the most vulnerable,” she said.

In Zimbabwe, already confronted by a host of humanitarian, economic, and political challenges, Cyclone Idai has only made the outlook more bleak. “The priority is to help get people back on track and restore some level of dignity and hope,” said Makore.

Additional update sources

Mwiza Munthali of AfricaNow! on WPFW, March 20, in Washington, DC featuring Effects of Cyclone Idai on Southern Africa. Interviews with Estacio Valoi, an investigative journalist based in Mozambique and is part of Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ); and Suzgo Khunga, an Assistant Bureau Chief and News Analyst for Nation Media Group in Malawi. Hour-long radio program.

Guardian, “Cyclone Idai 'might be southern hemisphere's worst such disaster' ,“ March 19, 2019

NPR, “Plight Of Survivors After Cyclone Idai: No Power, No Homes, No Roads,” March 20, 2019

BBC, “Cyclone Idai: Mozambique survivors desperate for help,” March 20, 2019

BBC, “Cyclone Idai: How the storm tore into southern Africa,” March 21, 2019

Climate Change and Climate Justice

Two longer articles on the impact of climate change, in addition to the two below, are:

Guardian, “Climate change making storms like Idai more severe, say experts,” March 19, 2019

BBC, “Cyclone Idai: What's the role of climate change?,” March 20, 2019


Cyclone Idai: Time the Rich Countries Compensate Victims of Climate Change Disasters

Centre for Natural Resource Governance, Harare, March 18, 2019 - Direct URL:

Cyclone Idai is sweeping across Southern Africa with Mozambique and Zimbabwe being the hardest hit. More than 200 people have died across the region since the storm hit on 4 March. In Zimbabwe Chimanimani district is the hardest hit, with more than 65 people confirmed dead as of Sunday 17 March whilst hundreds are still missing. Hundreds of homes were swept away whilst road infrastructure was destroyed, rendering Chimanimani inaccessible for rescue efforts.

Whilst human life is beyond monetary value, the loss in terms of damage to property can reach billions of dollars, and some of the families may never recover from their loss unless they are properly compensated. And yet the big question is who must take responsibility for compensating the affected people?

The link between extreme weather events and climate change can no longer be disputed. Climate change, being a culmination of unrelenting emission of greenhouse gases, mainly by the industrialized rich countries, is responsible for the disaster unfolding in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi – countries with among the world’s lowest emissions rates.

However, whilst rich countries have enough resources to cushion their populations from some of the extreme effects of climate change, poor countries have limited resources to cope with climate change-related disasters. Had there been enough adaptation resources, a significant number of lives could have been saved. Many were washed away whilst sleeping in their homes in the dead of the night.

Whilst the benefits of greenhouse gas emissions are enjoyed by the rich countries, the poor countries are on the receiving end of deleterious effects of climate change. Sadly, given the reluctance of rich countries to take drastic action towards carbon emission reductions, natural disasters are set to increase resulting in more loss of lives and property in the poor countries. Sadly majority of the victims have no idea as to who is chiefly responsible for their calamities.

The situation unfolding in our region is of global significance. It is a consequence of human action and those contributing more to climate change ought to compensate the victims.

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance is of the view that the rich countries must pay their climate debt to the Zimbabwean people – but the Zanu PF government and Minister Mthuli Ncube cannot be trusted to manage the payments.

Instead, we need trusted agencies in civil society to receive aid and direct transfers to the ordinary people affected. This could be done simply by arranging payout systems in the affected parts of Zimbabwe, so that everyone living in those areas would get a reparations payment. There is need to compensate families for loss of lives, destruction of homes and even loss of food, livestock and domestic utensils. The situation is dire in fragile states where governments have misplaced priorities which relegates human security to humanitarian work of Non-Governmental Organisations and well-wishers.

[For an additional article on the same theme, with multiple links to related information, see “Cyclone Idai lays bare the fundamental injustice of climate change,” Grist, March 19, 2019 (]


Tropical cyclone Idai: The storm that knew no boundaries

The Conversation March 20, 2019

Jennifer Fitchett
Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, University of the Witwatersrand

Tropical cyclone Idai has made headlines across southern Africa throughout the month of March. Lingering in the Mozambique Channel at tropical cyclone intensity for six days, the storm made landfall in Beira, Mozambique in the middle of the month, then tracked in a westerly direction until its dissipation.

The greatest impact of the storm was experienced on landfall. It caused flooding, excessive wind-speed and storm surge damage in the central region of Mozambique. Adjacent countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe experienced severe rainfall, flooding and damage from the high wind speed. Madagascar also experienced bouts of high rainfall during the storm’s pathway to Beira.

The flooding has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and displaced across the region while the death toll has continued to rise in the week following landfall. The effects of the cyclone were felt as far south as South Africa and introduced rolling blackouts due to damaged transmission lines that supply the country with 1100 MW of power from Cahora Bassa in northern Mozambique.

Historically, nine storms that had reached tropical cyclone intensity made landfall on Mozambique. A larger number of weaker tropical systems, including tropical storms and depressions affect the region, with a total landfall of all tropical systems of 1.1 per annum.

The most severe tropical cyclone to make landfall in Mozambique was tropical cyclone Eline in February 2000. It had a category 4 intensity on landfall and resulted in 150 deaths, 1000 casualties from flooding, 300 000 people displaced and four ships sunk.

The storms off Africa’s east coast are weaker than their northern hemisphere counterparts. Category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones make landfall at a near-annual rate in the North Atlantic and North Pacific.

Why the wide impact

Why have so many countries been affected?

Tropical cyclones are large storm systems. Immediately surrounding the eye of the storm – a region of calm weather, no wind and no rain – are spirals of storm clouds that span a minimum radius of ~100km. These cloud bands represent the thunder storm conditions, with the rain and winds typical of a tropical cyclone.

A ~100km radius is typical of category 1 tropical cyclones, the lowest intensity ones. As the storms intensify to categories 2, 3, 4 and 5, the size increases significantly. This means that a high intensity storm, such as tropical cyclone Idai, has a range of impact significantly larger than the storm track that it follows.

In recent years concerns have been growing about the impact of climate change on cyclones. Research has shown that changes to the world’s temperature, as well as ocean warming, are responsible for an increase in the severity of tropical cyclones. This has recently been researched for the South Indian Ocean. As the ocean is warming, the region which experiences temperatures conducive to tropical cyclone formation is expanding and temperatures in the tropical regions are becoming warm enough for cyclone intensification. Category 5 tropical cyclones, which have been experienced in the North Atlantic for almost a century, started to occur in the South Indian Ocean since 1994, and have occurred increasingly frequently since then.

This means that as climate change continues and intensifies, so too do these storms. This will mean a greater frequency of not only severe damage from storms, but damage over a larger region. In addition to the impact of warming on the storm intensity, climate warming has also been found to increase the expanse of the storms within any given intensity.

Cyclone Idai

So how intense was tropical cyclone Idai?

Storm track records, which include the geographic location of the storm at set time intervals, the wind speed and the atmospheric pressure, are documented by a number of regional climatological organisations. This data is synthesised by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association, providing a useful resource for scientists to explore storm behaviour.

Tropical cyclones are classified on the basis of their wind speed and central pressure. The weakest storms to be classified as tropical cyclones – category 1 – have a minimum sustained wind speed of 119km/hr. At category 3 the storms have a minimum wind speed of 178 km/h. As the category increases, so too does the potential for damage. Category 1 storms are classified as resulting in dangerous winds that cause some damage, whereas category 3 storms are expected to cause devastating damage.

The history of tropical cyclone Idai is documented in these records. The cyclone reached category 3 intensity between 03:00-06:00 on the 11th March 2019, while positioned at its most easterly extent of the storm track. By 03:00 on the 12th March the storm had dissipated to category 2 intensity, and it fluctuated between intensities of categories 2 and 3 over the 36 hours that followed.

From noon on the 13th March the storm maintained a category 3 intensity which persisted until landfall on the 14th.

What needs to be done

Storms that affect many countries present particular challenges. They clearly have no regard for political boundaries. The fact that they affect lots of countries presents challenges in both preparing for storm events in a proactive way and responding to prevent loss of life and livelihood. This requires countries to communicate effectively with one another, to provide coherent messages about the forecasting of the storm track and potential damage, and to facilitate effective evacuations.

This storm provides a grim prospect of the future of tropical cyclones in a region under continued threat from climate change. Effective adaptation to minimise storm damage is essential in preparing the region for an increase in the severity of these storms. Disaster risk management plans are also very important to minimise the loss of life.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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