Opinion Pieces

Mozambique after cyclone IDAI: “People know this is climate chaos”

Opinion of Anabela Lemos - Director JA! Friends Of Earth Moçambique

Aerial photo of Tengani, locality of Malawi, affected by floods due to incessant rains between March 5 and 9, 2019. UNICEF/Juskauskas

Our people are dying due to intensified weather events, like cyclone IDAI that hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe on March 14th, and the precedent and related flooding in the rivers of the region, causing utter devastation and suffering.

We know that, in Mozambique, we are on the front line of climate breakdown. The poor and the most vulnerable will always be the ones to suffer from climate-related disasters. This is what we’re witnessing right now in Mozambique.

We never expected to have this level of destruction, maybe because it was not all a direct effect of the cyclone. Just like in life, because nothing is a single issue, this tragedy included climate-raged Idai, floods due to the overflowing of rivers, partly probably derived from bad dam management. The science is clear and it’s undoubtful that these weather events are being exacerbated by climate change. Until now, the world hasn’t comitted to what we all know needs to be done: STOP with dirty energies; and STOP funding fossil fuels and dams in our countries.

It all started with the floods, on the morning of 8th of March the Rovubuè river (affluent of the Zambezi) reached its full peak, at the same time as the Cahora Bassa dam, which started releasing 3,000 cubic meters per second. At the confluence of Zambezi and Rovubuè happened a phenomenon called “reflux”, meaning that the Rovubuè could not discharge its waters in the Zambezi, thus creating a massive return of water to the basin of the two rivers. Total chaos, floods in two provinces, Tete and Zambézia. Nampula also impacted.

People awoke with water in their houses, went looking for higher places, some got stuck in the roofs waiting for help. Many bridges started over-flooding and breaking, and we were receiving mixed information about dams in Malawi and Zimbabwe opening their gates. River Licuari also overflowing. Then we started receiving news about a cyclone coming, Cyclone Idai hit Beira, (central Mozambique), on the night of the 14th and three more provinces where affected. The high flows and dams in all rivers (and one dam that burst) was what made things much worse. It is a disaster never before seen in Mozambique. There are rivers full of crocodiles, people on roof and trees, bridges tore apart, most roads cut. Until two days later, on sunday 17th, there was no communication whatsoever. Rescue teams started to arrive in Beira on sunday 17th, but rescue could only be done by boat or air. Since the night of the 14th they have no water, no energy, no communication, no banks, no shops, nothing is working. Total destruction in Beira, the rest of Sofala and Manica provinces.

We all knew the cyclone was coming, and we feel frustrated and impotent. Frankly we don’t know what the hell was our government doing. Their apathy in all of this, knowing what was coming and doing absolutely nothing to be prepared. They simply issued a warning telling people to stay inside. They didn’t have a single rescue boat ready to give support. Instead, our president went to visit Swaziland during the cyclone, which pretty much says everything about his priorities. It leaves me or any other citizen with a sick conscience.

South African rescue teams were the 1st to arrive, even before our military. Three ships from India also arrived in Beira, a plane with militaries from Portugal, and many others, Doctors Without Borders, etc.

A ship left Maputo on saturday (23rd) with goods and basic needs, organized by different schools, institutions, NGO’s, and civil society in general in Maputo and based on donations. JA also purchased some goods and delivered in the Port. There are many voluntaries at the Port helping, the reaction of civil society in Maputo has been amazing in terms of solidarity, with only one goal – to help the people around Beira.

Information is coming bit by bit, we were hearing shocking stories of around 300 to 500 bodies floating on the river in a 4km stretch, of people giving up and letting go from trees, children and women crying for help. Also many actions of opportunism and violence in a moment of mourning, pain and regret, which is very sad. At the same time some amazing stories of solidarity, one about one man and his boat rescuing many people, non-stop. That also gives us hope.

For now, we’ve been focusing on solidarity, we are all trying to help, but there will be much more to be done in the near future. As soon as the roads are better, when rivers come down, we will go there to see what we can do to help in other ways than sending donations. We are also wanting to know how the cyclone became so strong after the rivers started overflowing, if there is some connection there.

Some people from Beira and surrounding area are asking the government to stop flying over to see the disaster, and to take photos, when they should use the helicopters to rescue people, which is much more important. But all they want to do is see the scenery, from high up in the sky.

One thing is for sure, this is due to climate change, and if this is not enough for our governments to stop dirty energy, maybe next time they should be the ones in trees asking for help and seeing crocodiles. They need to start feeling what the people are feeling. Maybe that will make them human, and care about the people and the planet.

The people of Mozambique, and in many other countries, are dying because of a few greedy corporations and governments that do not have the decency to stop this madness. The message is clear: if we don’t stop, it will only get worse in coming years.

We call on the governments of western so-called “civilized” nations to STOP funding fossil fuel extraction.

People in Mozambique know this is climate chaos. They know what’s going on. They are going to come and challenge everyone in northern countries and ask – why are you continuing to do this to us?

Stop this genocide.

Anabela Lemos

Director JA! Friends Of Earth Moçambique

(CC) 2019 Real World Radio