OPINION: One year after Mozambique cyclones, local crisis needs global climate action
By Sven Harmeling
Without a strong international response to climate change, people's efforts to get back on their feet after disasters will not keep them safe in future
Last March, the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands of people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
The situation at the time was catastrophic. With wind speeds of about 200 kilometres per hour, the cyclone hit the poorest the hardest, particularly women and girls.
For weeks people sought refuge on top of roofs, trees and school buildings, amid floodwaters that rose up to 8 metres high. Hundreds of thousands not only lost their homes in the disaster, but also their belongings and livelihoods.
Shortly thereafter, Cyclone Kenneth hit parts of northern Mozambique, marking the first time in recorded history that two strong tropical cyclones hit the country in the same season.
The cyclones in Mozambique are only one of many climate-linked disasters that have battered the world in the last year, including unprecedented wildfires sweeping Australia and California, and severe flooding in Southern Africa as well as the UK.
These devastating events should not be seen in isolation but are all scars in an increasingly disrupted climatic system which, according to widely accepted scientific findings, are a consequence of, or at least exacerbated by, global warming.
Their impact also lasts far longer than the pictures in the headlines. The actual consequences of disasters, particularly ones of this scale, only reveal themselves in the weeks and months after.
In Mozambique, the situation only looks marginally better than it did a year ago. Aid organisations such as CARE International have reached more than 300,000 people with vital help: food, clean water and emergency shelter. But for many, their needs have multiplied.
An estimated 2.5 million people, almost 10% of the population, rely on humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations. The agricultural losses from the storms were estimated at $141 million, a colossal number by any standards but particularly for a struggling country like Mozambique.
Behind those numbers there are families and people who continue to suffer from lack of food or income due to the loss of harvests. Today, more than 1.6 million people don't have enough food - a number that is expected to increase in the coming months.
CLIMATE AGREEMENT FOR ALL
Five years ago, governments from almost all countries signed and thereafter ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. All scientific findings show that many countries - particularly those most responsible for causing the climate crisis and most able to manage the costs of climate action - lag far behind the required commitment.
Fully implementing the Paris Agreement - by at least halving global CO2 emissions by 2030 - would limit the global temperature increase to levels that could prevent a disastrous escalation of the climate crisis, and help all countries build resilience to the unavoidable impacts. Vulnerable people suffering from the harmful climate impacts, particularly women and girls, must be at the centre of such responses.
Richer countries have an obligation to financially support those who are most vulnerable to the climate crisis and have contributed least to its escalation. Promoting ways to increase such support will be essential to the agenda of the UN climate conference, COP26, that the UK is hosting in November in Glasgow.
But, in essence, the Paris Agreement is a global compact for all people, and governments must start upholding the commitments they made in ratifying it. This is precisely what youth activists, inspired by Greta Thunberg, are demanding over and over again on the basis of solid climate science: that governments live up to their promises and implement the Paris Agreement.
In Mozambique, people have not sat back and waited for support to come. Women and their families who were displaced by last year’s storms have rebuilt their houses, started farming again, and engaged in disaster preparedness activities.
As part of its humanitarian response to the cyclones, CARE is distributing drought-resistant seeds - which include sorghum, cowpea, ground nuts, pineapple seedlings, maize and millet - to more than 27,000 small-scale farmers in regions where crops were destroyed by the storms.
Those most impacted will continue to seek solutions within their constraints. But without immediate, strong action on climate change everywhere, these will not be investments in a future of hope, but only piecemeal steps that will continue to be wiped away by the next storm or dried up by the next drought.
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