By: Tom Quinn
On March 15, Cyclone Idai slammed the Southeast African countries of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving approximately 1.85 million people in need of assistance. The African coastline, where a majority of the continent’s population resides, has only just begun to recuperate from the 100mph winds which destroyed tens of thousands of homes. There are currently 713 confirmed fatalities, a number expected to rise past alarming rates as sea levels recede and rescue efforts expand into remote areas.
Authorities’ main concerns have shifted from the immediate rescue of people from flooded communities to disease control. Rescuers are bracing for an expected outbreak of cholera, and have sent 900,000 vaccines to fight the illness. However, with estimates that the storm’s 20-foot storm surge has wiped out large supplies of food and significantly restricted access to clean water, global organizations remain concerned. United Nations Secretary General Guterres stated earlier this week that “urgent assistance” was needed in the region and called upon the international community to help fund humanitarian efforts.
Rising global temperatures cause more moisture to be held in the air, and increasing precipitation rates during storms results in greater flooding and vastly longer periods where water remains in communities. In Mozambique, the combination of continued rainfall after the cyclone had passed and the storm surge itself caused 835 square miles of flooding.
Along with greater rainfall, widespread drought exacerbated by rising temperatures does not allow water to be absorbed into the ground, dramatically increasing the probability of flash flooding, one of the major issues of concern following Cyclone Idai. In Beria, the second largest city in Mozambique and the location hardest hit by the storm, a United Nations report has rewritten estimates for the 100-year flood. New moderate estimates forecast that by 2050 a surge of at least 1.9 meters can be expected in Beria every 40 years due to rising sea levels.
In a press conference at the United Nations, the Secretary General stated that Cyclone Idai is “yet another alarm bell about the dangers of climate change.” Guterres also addressed the unfortunate truth that low-income countries will pay the greatest price for climate change, a phenomenon largely brought on by developed countries. In 2015, roughly fifty percent of the world’s climate dioxide emissions came from China, the United States, and India, whereas Mozambique’s emissions are too low to be listed in the report.
Extreme weather has and will continue to rise in both intensity and frequency as high polluting nations ignore the devastating effects of climate change. No longer can we debate the possible effects of the phenomenon – we must confront the consequences of both historic and current actions.