Impacts and lessons from tropical cyclone Freddy

Source(s): African Union
Flooded street and house in Eastern South Africa
David Steele/Shutterstock

An assessment undertaken by the African Union Commission (AUC) jointly with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the impact of Tropical Cyclone Freddy in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi, identified important lessons for recovery. The assessment took place end of August 2023.

The Cyclone hit first Mozambique during the fourth week of February as it made a turn to Madagascar causing severe destruction in the town of Mananjary in Madagascar before it made a second landfall in Mozambique as it headed to Malawi. This made Cyclone Freddy a record-breaking, becoming the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever recorded worldwide. Additionally, it became the third-deadliest tropical cyclone recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, after Cyclone Idai in 2019 and Cyclone Flores in 1973.

One week before Cyclone Freddy could hit Mozambique, H.E. Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, President of the Republic of Mozambique and the AU Champion of Disaster Risk Reduction, made a landmark  visit to the AMHEWAS Situation Room for Disaster Risk Reduction on 17 February  2023, at a time when the AMHEWAS Situation Room was monitoring the Cyclone Freddy as it was heading to Madagascar and Mozambique. Cognisance of devastating impacts that Madagascar experienced in 2022, President Nyusi requested the AUC to support Madagascar as its braces for the impact from Cyclone Freddy.

In fulfilment of the AU’s Champion call, the assessment mission was undertaken to assess the impact of the Cyclone in the affected countries, to identify lessons and opportunities for resilience building.

Mr Harsen Nyambe Nyambe, the AUC Director of Sustainable Environment and Blue Economy (SEBE), headed the delegation. The AUC delegation comprised of officers from the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Unit, the Directorate of Information and Communication (DIC) and the Department of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development. Mr Anderson Banda, the Director of the SADC Humanitarian and Emergency Operations Centre (SHOC), represented the SADC. Three experts from the United Nations Development Programme also participated in the mission. Representative of the Embassies and Permanent Mission of the three countries participated in the mission. The team had first-hand interactions with the authorities and communities ravaged by the Cyclone in Mananjary in Madagascar, Quelimane in Mozambique, and Blantyre in Malawi. 

In Madagascar, Hon. Tokely Justin, Minister of Interior and Decentralisation of the Republic of Madagascar received the team upon arrival. Hon. Tokely highlighted that the country is always on the Cyclone path and is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Minister was also accompanied by the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC). Hon. Tokely also appreciated the support offered by the African Union earlier in 2023 in the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy. While in Madagascar, the team visited the town of Mananjary, in the region of Vatovavy, where the Cyclone hit. Mananjary has been devastated by many cyclones, including the Batsirai in early 2022 and Freddy in 2023. Cyclone Freddy destroyed hospitals and health centres, and 58,000 children were out of schools after the destruction of their classrooms. Also, the community is facing acute malnutrition.

In Mozambique, the group first held discussions with the National Institute for Disaster Risk Management (INGD) and other sectors including meteorology, education and housing, through the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). The team also visited the city of Quelimane, in the province of Zambezia, and interacted with communities directly affected by Cyclone Freddy in Namitangurine. The group later held talks with the Office of the Secretary of State in Quelimane. In , Quelimane, Cyclone Freddy resulted in the loss of lives, massively destroyed infrastructure, displacement, and affected the livelihoods of local people. Some of the displaced persons remain in camps. The Government, in collaboration with various non-governmental organisations and UN agencies such as UN-Habitat, have been leading efforts towards reconstructing houses, schools and hospitals destroyed or affected by the Cyclone.

While in Malawi, the team visited Lilongwe, where officials from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received the joint assessment team. The group additionally held intensive discussions with various clusters that participated in response to Cyclone Freddy. The delegation also visited the City of Blantyre and engaged officials from the Blantyre City Council and districts affected by the Cyclone, including Nsanje.

The assessment identified important best practices. In Madagascar, decentralisation of disaster risk management down to local level enabled the government to respond swiftly, hence minimised losses. The BNGRC also utilises internal resources to support disaster risk management activities. Madagascar also utilised its burst experience and expertise in managing cyclones, wildfires, droughts and floods to quick activate its emergency command systems. Similar decentralisation of disaster risk management in Mozambique, and Malawi was commended for its effectiveness in responding to the cyclone at local level. In Mozambique, the INDG has assets and staff deployed at provincial level, enabling to quickly mobilise national assets in response to disasters. the INGD reach also reaches the grassroots level. In Blantyre, the City Council quickly reviewed its master plan, taking into account new hazards, such as landslides.

Effective disaster risk communication helped minimised the impact of the cyclone. In Mozambique, alerts were reported about the oncoming Cyclone reaching 3.8 million people in the affected provinces. Also, the Disaster Risk Reduction agencies and organisations cited the references to the regular outlooks produced by the Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) that advise approaches to disaster risk reduction planning. In Malawi a community in Quelimane moved to safer grounds that were previously identified before the cyclone. Therefore, there was no relocation in the community this year after Cyclone Freddy made landfall in the area.

The three countries made important progress in strengthen risk governance. Having experienced frequent cyclones, Mozambique reviewed it national disaster risk management policy and strategy, guided by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and made the BNGRC became a public structure in 2019.  Malawi has reinforced its Disaster Risk Management Department (DRMD) with new Bill, which empowers the department to deploy the nation’s resources to protect lives and livelihood.

International cooperation and good neighbourliness that was demonstrated by African countries and international partners are important lessons that should ne up scaled. The Mozambicans along the border with Malawi were housed in camps on the Malawi side, and the Government of Malawi supported them until their repatriation to Mozambique.Similarly Mozambique provided relief to Malawi despite having been hit by Cyclone Freddy too.

The joint assessment recommended series of action that should be undertaken to support recovery efforts. These include, deployment of recovery experts to support the affected states in their recovery efforts, prioritise support to the most affected provinces through existing continental initiatives such as Africa Urban Resilience Programme and Africa Multi-hazard Early Warning and Early Action System (AMHEWAS) Programme.

The joint assessment team is finalizing a full report, which will be shared with the three countries in the coming weeks.

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Hazards Cyclone
Country and region Madagascar Malawi Mozambique
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