Kemi Osukoya


March 20, 2019

“Our people really deserves better than this,” expressed an African in a social media post on Tuesday in response to this week’s news reports of a tropical storm aftermath that left part of five Southern African countries submerged in water and mudslides.

“Really sad to see how long it took to realize the magnitude of the disaster and what it will take to mobilize an effective relief effort,” continues the post. “No one should wake up in the middle of the night surprised by such a cyclone. was there no warning or any preparation? How can we justified being taken off guard by a cyclone today with all the technology that exists? This is Mozambique but it could have been anywhere on the continent.”

Late Thursday night, a record breaking Cyclone named Idai landed on the shores of Beira, in central Mozambique and swiftly deluged the coastal areas and neighboring Southern African countries-Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe, with water and mudslides.

It’s the latest cataclysmic news to pound the African continent this month.

Cyclone Idai, which landed as tropical storm, is estimated to affect more than one million people and could cost the African continent billions of dollars in damages and losses, both humanitarian and economic, according to governments.

Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi, after surveying the devastating aftermath left by Idai, described the country’s situation as humanitarian disaster of huge proportions.

On Tuesday, hundreds were reported dead across the five countries affected due to heavy flooding and mudslides, including 85 people in Mozambique, 98 in Zimbabwe and 56 in Malawi, seven in South Africa and three in Madagascar. Rapid flooding, due to heavy rains, have destroyed houses, hospitals, schools and washed away roads and bridges, leaving several communities swamped in mudslides, and in isolation. according to reports. Villages have been swept away.

The United Nations, its agencies and partners, including the UNICEF, are requesting more than $40 million emergency relief funds to help those affected by Idai.

Cyclone Idai, is considered the worst cyclone in 20 years, and is the eighth intense tropical cyclone of the 2018-19 South West Indian Ocean cyclone season. It’s also the deadliest tropical cyclone worldwide in 2019 as of March.

The storm, which seemed to have caught the affected governments off guard, wasn’t really a surprise since the Joint Typhoon Warning Center issued a tropical cyclone formation alert on March 8. However, it’s not known at this time if the governments issued alerts to warn their population about cyclone Idai’s impending landfall and impact.

The storm started as a weak tropical storm that shaped on the shores of Tanzania and Madagascar, off the eastern coast of Mozambique on March 4. As it travels, the low spirited storm made a landfall in Mozambique later in the day and remained relatively weak as it journeyed through the water for several days before changing into a modest tropical storm along the way in Mozambique warm channel, and then erupted into a severe tropical storm on Friday night when it reached peak intensity with maximum sustained winds of 120mph and a minimum central pressure of 27.76inHg.

Cyclone Idai’s devastations reveal how defenseless low lying African countries  and cites are to extreme weather changes. 

“African governments should embark on mitigation activities, especially since nowadays, in the context of climate change, it is real,” Executive Director of Gambia National Disaster Management Agency, Sanna Dahaba said during an exclusive interview with THE AFRICA BAZAAR MAGAZINE in New York at the office of the Gambia Permanent Mission to the United Nations. “What governments need to do is to come up with a disaster plan. Every government should have a disaster plan in place. Instead of funding disaster management, they should be funding disaster mitigation. They should identify hot spots in their country and invest on those hot spots so whenever a disaster strikes, the impact will be minimal.”

Mr. Dahaba, whose country is located in the coastal area of the West Africa region and holds the largest biodiversity species on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean on the African continent, emphasized that establishing a disaster plan is not only essential to averting disaster but also necessary to sustaining the African continent’s developmental progress and economic growth.

“This is something that Africa and African governments really need to start thinking about because disaster will never tell you I’m coming today or coming tomorrow or coming the day thereafter. So what governments need to do is create a budget line by African countries to invest on disaster risk-reduction initiatives. Once they invest in that, whenever disaster strikes, the impact will be minimum,” said Mr. Dahaba.

Gambia, which is prone to flash flooding and droughts, instituted a disaster plan and disaster budget in place in 2013 to address and manage such emergency incidents from eroding the country’s land and economy. The Gambian government created a government-funded impact investment financing insurance scheme to help government manage and avert economic disasters when nature emergencies or disasters hit the country.

“Gambia is prone to flash flood and we are prone to pest infestation. If you look at the profile, every 10 years, we experience drought. As a country, we are investing in premium financing crops insurance. Once disaster happens, if funds in not yet available immediately from the government, we can tap the premium insurance to finance our drought,” said Mr. Dahaba.

Mr. Dahaba said the Gambian government is now in discussions with its private sector to create a new local insurance scheme that will provide premium to the private sector whenever droughts or floods occur in the country. “The private sector suffers when disasters happen so we’re looking at initiating local insurance scheme that will provide premium so whenever drought happen, they can just go and tap that resources and finance whatever they need to finance,” he said.

In Cyclone Idai’s aftermath, coastal cities around the Southern Africa areas remained submerged in water and mudslides. One family was forced to stay on the rooftop of their home while awaiting rescue, according to reports. Children are expected to be severally affected, traumatize by the recent incident.

International rescue efforts from non-profit organizations, and businesses, including the International Federation of Red Cross, Red Crescent Societies, and Doctors without Borders have been deployed across the five countries hit by the tropical storm. 

The World Health Organization on Wednesday said it is deploying a full management team to Mozambique for scaling up health response. Similar response actions with the deployment of health experts, medicines and medical materials and equipment are also going for Malawi and Zimbabwe .

In a statement, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said “The displacement of large numbers of people and the flooding triggered by Cyclone Idai significantly increases the risk of malaria, typhoid and cholera. WHO stands with the affected people and is organizing assistance to address their urgent health needs.”

As rescue efforts get underway across the areas affected, governments estimate tourism, fishery, agriculture and other sectors will be massively impacted, but right now, there are no definite estimate amounts to quantify the overall economic effects of the storm on the region.

Mozambique, which possesses one of the world’s most pristine beaches as well as housed one of the world’s largest Liquefied natural gas reserves, is home to several major international oil and gas companies, including Exxon Mobil. Though not dealing with any major payolas, the economic impact from Idai could be a major shock to the country’s economy.

South Africa is already experiencing a diminishing economy due to payolas and other internal affairs while Zimbabwe has its longstanding currency woes. Malawi on the other hand was just getting its economy back on track after several years of dealing with severe drought. Another nature disaster could drain the economy.

Experts say the economic effects on each country could either end up being a small dent or a total wreckage based on individual country’s recovery efforts, and contingent shock absorbers put in place for emergencies to protect resources, and capacity. The governments have appealed for emergency funds: Mozambique is requesting $17.6 million to help with its recovery efforts, Malawi is asking for $16.4 million and South Africa seeks $7 million.

Meanwhile, Africans in the diaspora are urging African governments and other African leaders across the continent to tap into the continent’s technological talent pool, skills and resources to design a more efficient and efficacy emergency alert systems that will warn people before natural disaster or man-made emergencies hit their cities and communities as well as consider taking necessary climate change actions that will protect the lives of populations on the African continent.

Underscoring this urgent pleads to institute a better disaster warning system, Mr. Dahaba urged African governments to strengthen early warning – urging government to use different outlets, including mobile phone alerts, radio, television, satellite information and other forecast to get the information out early to the people. “Even in the most sophisticated technology world like America, when cyclone comes, you see how it is. The African economies are struggling to strengthen that, but in terms of our revenues bases, this is still a challenge for Africa. However, there’s a mechanism that African governments need to strengthen and that’s early warning. Governments need to invest more in early warning so whenever disaster is about to hit, they can get the information to their population using various resources like mobile phone alerts, radio, television, satellite information and other forecast information”