Household takes refuge from the rain in central Malawi. Source: Wikipediacommons & ILRI, Stevie Mann.
Climate crisis response plans for hardest hit Southern African countries
By Élitz-Doris C. Okwudili
Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe have been particularly hard hit by recent powerful cyclones, which left a trail of death and destruction. ÉLITZ-DORIS OKWUDILI tracks the impact of Cyclones Idai and Ana1 and presents the plans designed since then to manage the impact of climate change-related crises in these countries going forward.
Developing nations in the Global South are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to their lack of development, weak institutions, significant inequality, excessive reliance on agriculture, inadequate technology and improper resource management (Thinda et al., 2020:1–18). This has been particularly evident in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, which have been hit by powerful cyclones that had a significant impact on millions of their citizens (UNICEF, 2019).
Cyclone Idai made landfall as a Category 2 storm close to the capital of Mozambique, Beira, on 4 March 2019, affecting nearly 2.2 million people. Its torrential rains and violent winds caused flash flooding, hundreds of fatalities, extensive crop damage and an unprecedented loss of property (World Vision, 2019). It left an estimated 3,000km2 of land in central Mozambique submerged and damaged more than 240,000 houses. Following Cyclone Idai’s landfall, more than 715,000 hectares of crops were destroyed (Relief Web, 2019).
The cyclone made landfall during the critical harvest period, effectively wiping out the food supply of thousands of families and prolonging an already difficult lean season. Many children, elderly people and people with disabilities were unable to flee to safety and more than half of the affected people were children.
The cyclone also severely impacted livelihoods in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands (Chitongo et al., 2019) causing massive destruction in the districts of Chimanimani, Chipinge, Nyanga and Mutare (Tsuro Trust, 2019). A total of 51,000 people were rendered homeless, 340 people died and a large number of people went missing in the ensuing flooding and landslides (Chatiza, 2019). Infrastructure, agriculture and schools were severely impacted.
Fifteen districts in Malawi, in both rural and urban areas, were affected by major flooding caused by Cyclone Idai. Collapsed buildings, washed- away bridges, blocked highways and destroyed houses and property (Fröbe-Kaltenbach & Baulch, 2019) prompted the government of Malawi to declare a disaster (Humanitarian Coalition, 2019). Sanitation facilities also sustained considerable damage, increasing the danger of waterborne diseases (Humanitarian Coalition, 2019). Countless people were displaced and sought shelter in schools and temporary structures, increasing the risk of spreading diseases and posing problems for the privacy and protection of women and girls. The Department of Disaster Management Affairs reported that as of 22 March 2019, more than 850,000 people had been affected in Malawi alone. There were 59 fatalities, 677 injuries and about 87,000 individuals were displaced (Fröbe-Kaltenbach & Baulch, 2019).
Just as these countries were trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild, Cyclone Ana made landfall in January 2022. It hit the entire northern region of Mozambique, causing fatalities and extensive damage, particularly to public infrastructures disrupting basic services and healthcare (Africa CDC, 2022). The cyclone flooded a total of 70,982 hectares, affected about 180,869 individuals, injured 207 people and killed at least 38 people in Mozambique (ReliefWeb, 2022).
Cyclone Ana hit at least six provinces in Zimbabwe, although worst affected was Manicaland province. The cyclone damaged Zimbabwe’s public infrastructure to varying degrees in 11 of the 12 districts in the affected area with the loss of housing, water provision, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, livelihoods, and food security (ReliefWeb, 2022) as well as additional indirect effects such as trauma and injuries. Several communities along Zimbabwe’s northern and north- eastern border were battered by moderate to severe rains with daily maximums of 80mm and wind gusts reaching speeds of up to 80km/h (Brown, 2021).
Cyclone Ana also caused significant flooding in Malawi, particularly in the southern region. Houses collapsed and roofs were blown off, road systems were damaged, livestock and crops were washed away and water sources were contaminated. Some areas were designated disaster zones, and the entire nation experienced a power outage. Much of Malawi’s public and private infrastructure was destroyed including homes, schools, hospitals and churches. A total of 49,214 individuals were displaced, including women, children and people with disabilities (Africa CDC, 2022).
PLANS FOR CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT MANAGEMENT
For developing nations such as these, preparing settlements for climatic threats is a top priority. The dire need for effective adaptation strategies was demonstrated by the cyclones (Brown, 2021). The need to adapt infrastructure to climate change impacts is clear, both in terms of the role that infrastructure plays in protecting people and their assets from the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, as well as the significance of infrastructure for all economic activities (UNFCCC, 2007).
The National Institute for Disaster Management, under the direction of the government of Mozambique, adopted an integrated coastal planning approach that is in line with strategic principles and best practice guidelines in terms of coastal management and responding to climate change. This approach aims to plan for and start prevention through the implementation of adaptation measures at the national level, based on science and in support of sustainable development (Theron & Barwell, 2012). It includes the following:
- Plan future coastal development a safe distance away from the high-water mark and re-establish natural defence systems with the required environmental permits.
- Develop and implement Coastal Management Programmes that include Shoreline Management Plans to carry out comprehensive planning and implementation.
- Establish a coastal development setback line that will shield beachfront developments from storm damage and exacerbated coastal erosion while also safeguarding the natural environment from building developments.
- Work in harmony with nature by preserving the integrity of buffer dune systems, which should be maintained and properly vegetated with the proper dune species in accordance with the original natural zones.
- Maintain the sand reservoir (volume) in the dune systems at the same level or increase it.
- Protect, restore and maintain natural systems like mangroves and coral reefs.
The government of Malawi has produced the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to increase resilience and adaptive capacity while facilitating the cogent integration of climate change adaptation into pertinent new and existing policies, programmes and national development activities (Kamdonyo, 2019).
The NAP will include developing tools and capacity for coordination and execution of the NAP process, engaging stakeholders and developing their capacity, creating and strengthening Expert Working Groups, conducting assessments of climate change risk and vulnerability and, most importantly, integrating NAP adaptation priorities into ministry spending plans.
The Malawian government recognised the need for well-researched plans as the basis of the National Climate Change Investment Plan (NCCIP) (Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Management, 2013:10-11). To ensure Malawi’s economy and society develop to their full potential within a well-protected and sustainable environment, safeguarded from major climate change effects and with responsibility for present and future generations, the NCCIP will ensure that the key priorities of the actions to address climate change and its effects are timely and sufficiently resourced.
According to projections, Zimbabwe’s climate will likely become more extreme and less predictable (Mhlanga & Nyikahadzoi, 2021:3) rendering the local practices, systems and infrastructure obsolete. Zimbabwe’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) (its formal submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]) outlines its plans for adapting to climate change. The NDC’s adaptation plans include developing and maintaining an integrated approach in all sectors of the economy to reduce the impacts of climate extreme events, promoting climate indexed insurance solutions and market frameworks, and strengthening early warning systems on climate-related risks (Africa Adaptation Initiative, 2022). The NDC also outlines cross sectional adaptation efforts such as:
- Supporting capacity building through promoting research, development, informational outreach and training on climate change-related topics.
- Integrating gender- responsive climate policy and emphasising particular initiatives to support vulnerable groups (women, youth and children) in climate change adaptation efforts across all economic sectors.
- Supporting sustainable agroforestry practices and non-timber forest products to improve forest-based adaptation.
- Implementing management techniques for hydropower plants to increase their capacity to generate electricity in conditions where there is a lack of rainfall.
- Increasing reservoirs’ water-holding capacity to prepare for increased abstraction and evaporation.
- Strengthening community capacities for diversifying livelihoods and moving away from agriculture into other sectors.
RECOMMENDATIONS BY REGIONAL/INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
At national and international levels public authorities are primarily responsible for adapting to climate change (Bauer & Scholz, 2010: 83-93). The development and deployment of research technology, collective action, public investment in critical areas like adequate infrastructure and early warning systems, information and advice for risk groups, and adjustments to public decision-making processes are all necessary for anticipatory measures to control risk and dangers.
The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) suggests that coastal cities in Southern Africa embrace Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA)2 as it allows for climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction while also offering services that can enhance people’s quality of life (Swanepoel & Siyasanga, 2019). SAIIA recommends:
- Effective EbA governance and management in local governments, which requires suitable regulatory and legislative frameworks supported by long-term planning, sufficient resources, enabling tools, procedures and systems.
- Coordination and collaboration, which requires institutional agreements and partnerships, both across institutions and within departments. This will make it possible to strategically utilise the limited resources available across different institutions.
According to the World Bank (2015), adaptation to climate change in infrastructure planning and design will require a shift in perspective away from established behaviour and practices, with the aim of better integrating the knowledge of the relevant professions, such as climate scientists and design engineers. The following areas should be considered:
- Provide technical guidelines for incorporating climate change into infrastructure planning and design in climate- sensitive sectors.
- The development of voluntary technical guidelines on how to incorporate the concepts of climate resilience into practical infrastructure planning and design could be accomplished by a multi-stakeholder technical working group.
- Create an open data knowledge repository for the development of climate-resilient infrastructure. There is a need to establish common data sources (on climate scenarios, hydrology, standard construction costs, etc.), which could be made public on open- data platforms hosted by African institutions (such as UNECA’s African Climate Policy Centre) to reduce the cost of the analysis required to incorporate climate considerations into infrastructure development.
- Organise training courses for experts in climate-resilient infrastructure. Training programmes could be organised for professionals involved in the planning, design and operation of climate-sensitive infrastructure to trengthen the technical skills needed to improve the climate resilience of infrastructure.
- Establish a facility for planning climate resilience projects in Africa. This must be sufficiently supported by grants or subsidised resources and could have various windows to meet the unique demands of different sectors or phases of the infrastructure development cycle. For instance, the facility could help develop master plans for climate-resilient infrastructure or the incorporation of climate resilience into specific projects.
- A climate-resilient infrastructure development observatory should be established in Africa to ensure that the work being done at the technical level (methodology, data and project preparation) and in training maintains visibility and connections with the policy level of decision- making.
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- The research for this article was completed before Cyclone Freddy hit Madagascar and Mozambique in February 2023, with devastating consequences. The cyclone, which hit Mozambique for a second time in two weeks, is the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record. At the last count before publication the death toll had reached more than 400 people..
- Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA), also referred to as Nature-based Solutions for Adaptation, involves a wide range of ecosystem management activities, such as the sustainable management of forests, grasslands and wetlands, that increase the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of people and the environment to climate change.
Élitz-Doris Okwudili, a sustainability manager at the ECOWAS parliament in Abuja, Nigeria, was a youth delegate at last year’s COP27 climate change summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. She has a master’s degree in Environmental Sustainability and Management from Wisconsin International University, USA and a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources Management and Policy from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana.