Cyclone Idai tore through the coastal city of Beira, Mozambique last week, creating a disaster that has been called “the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s history.” The cyclone has also devastated parts of neighbouring countries Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Heavy rains prior to and following the cyclone have resulted in major flooding, with water in some areas reaching depths of up to six metres.
While the full magnitude of the disaster remains unknown, Mozambique’s President, Filipe Nyusi, fears the current death toll of 200 will quickly rise to over 1,000. More than 400,000 residents have lost their homes and at least 100,000 more are in desperate need of urgent medical attention.
“Unfortunately, we can’t pick up all the people…”
An estimated 1.7 million people were in Idai’s path when it struck, many of whom were living in homes not designed for such a devastating storm.
A video published by The Guardian shows displaced locals perched in treetops in an attempt to escape the flooding, awaiting rescue. Those who have been brought to safety wander through makeshift relief centres, wailing and begging for an end to their suffering.
The video is chilling and captures the true horrors of this event. What is perhaps even more horrific is the fact that not everyone will receive the help they so desperately need.
Caroline Haga, spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross, told a BBC reporter: “Yesterday we rescued some 167 people from trees and roofs. Today we’ll continue that. Unfortunately, we can’t pick up all the people so our priority are children, pregnant women, injured people.”
Same Song and Dance
The coastal city of Beira was not prepared for a storm of this level. Recovery will take years, hampering development and economic growth.
We saw this with Haiti.
We saw this with Puerto Rico.
Now we will watch Mozambique slowly fade from the media’s spotlight as our attention shifts to another global tragedy.
Unless, of course, international aid organizations and humanitarian groups begin to consider taking a preventative approach with the work they do in countries such as Mozambique.
In the event of a humanitarian crisis, governments from developed nations send fleets of relief workers and medical professionals to heal the wounded and search for the missing. There is no doubt that this aid is crucial to help a nation recover from such a social, environmental, and economic shock.
But, what if aid were to come in the form of education and economic development before these storms hit? Perhaps countries such as Mozambique would be better equipped to prepare for and recover from a natural disaster.
What makes some countries more vulnerable than others?
The annual World Risk Report ranks 172 countries according to their vulnerability to natural disasters and their capacity to recover from them. The criteria for vulnerability in this report is stated as:
“Susceptibility, lack of coping capacities, and lack of adaptive capacities, and relates to social, physical, economic, and environmental factors which make people or systems susceptible to the impacts of natural hazards, the adverse effects of climate change, or other transformation processes…”
The following categories are considered in the rankings of the Risk Report: exposure, vulnerability, susceptibility, lack of coping capacities, and lack of adaptive capacities.
Mozambique is a poor nation with over seven million people suffering from malnutrition and poverty, rendering it vulnerable in the event of a severe natural disaster such as Cyclone Idai. The country ranked 42nd in the 2018 Work Risk Report.
Giving a Voice to the Voiceless
Global development is being prioritized now more than ever. With the United Nations (UN) working to complete its Sustainable Development Goals, attention has begun to shift to the ways in which we can harness our ever-improving technology and global interconnectedness to implement positive change.
The way in which many UN organizations are structured gives the majority of the representation to countries in the “global north,” which are generally more developed and have democratic political systems. Developing countries have less of a voice during general assemblies and international meetings. If we were to give more agency to representatives from developing nations, perhaps there would be more potential for effective policies to be implemented, helping the economy of a country like Mozambique back on its feet.
As the economies of developing countries begin to improve, those nations which are considered more vulnerable to natural disasters would have an increased capacity to invest in local infrastructure, providing added protection in the event of a natural disaster.
Who could better understand the needs of a developing nation than the UN representatives from such nations? Development should be an inside-out process that stems from the implementation of effective fiscal, monetary, and environmental policies.
The Point of No Return
There is no denying that our world has sustained considerable damage throughout the centuries in which humans have existed. Climate change has been pushed to the forefront of policy conversation as we begin to feel the repercussions of the damage done.
Today, we find ourselves racing against time to relieve some of the damage done and prevent further harm.
Not every aspect of development is within our control, however. Even if Mozambique were a developed country, the ferocity of Cyclone Idai would have caused considerable damage.
Natural disasters are predicted to increase in both intensity and frequency if our world is unable to drastically abate our greenhouse gas emissions. It is likely that we will continue to rush to the aid of developing countries, one after the other, as hurricanes, cyclones, and tsunamis tear through cities indiscriminately.
While some may consider this thinking to be pessimistic, it is the path we are headed down. Unless we make permanent changes to our energy and food sources, we will continue to see tragedy strike developing countries, and compassion fatigue will begin to set in. We have reached the point of no return.
Preventing Mozambique from Becoming “Old News”
Mozambique is a nation in need of long-term support and growth plans.
In the event of a natural disaster, multitudes of fundraising platforms are used to raise money for international relief efforts. The lack of transparency behind many of these fundraisers can leave one wondering what their money is being put towards, or if they are being used to cover advertising costs for an aid organization.
Of course, every contribution helps, but we cannot afford to place bandages on wounded countries after every crisis. Those in positions of power should use donations to give a platform to representatives from developing countries before tragedy strikes.
Journalists chase stories that are current and impactful. Unfortunately, after a few months – if not weeks – stories like Mozambique’s will be left unresolved as aid organizations and news crews leave the country to pursue another hard-hitting story.
The effects of Idai will haunt the residents of Beira for years to come, although many people in the developed world will leave this story in the past, turning their attention elsewhere after a short period of time.
For now, a BBC article projects the hollow cries of a father of three, which ring out amid the chaos: “Please help us. Tell the world we are suffering…”