Tropical Cyclone Idai brought devastation to east Africa, with strong winds and severe flooding affecting Madagascar, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. The storm has killed hundreds of people and affected more than 2.6 million others with catastrophic damage occurring in and around Beira in southern Mozambique.
Was Cyclone Idai caused by climate change?
It’s impossible to say if the storm itself was caused by climate change but experts believe its impact was made worse by the gradual rise in temperature.
How did climate change make it worse?
Experts point to three factors.
First, warmer air temperatures mean more rain is held and then released. Idai produced nearly a year’s worth of rain in just a few days - more than two feet in parts of the region.
Second, the region has been suffering from sustained drought in recent years, itself a problem associated with climate change. The hard, parched earth was unable to absorb water quickly, increasing the risk of flash flooding.
Third, rising sea levels mean that storm surges are much more powerful, increasing the risk of the sort of inland flooding seen in the port city of Beira. Sea levels are about a foot higher than a century ago fed by melting ice at the poles.
What do the experts say?
“Cyclone Idai is a clear demonstration of the exposure and vulnerability of many low-lying cities and towns to sea-level rise as the impact of climate change continues to influence and disrupt normal weather patterns,” said Mami Mizutori, the UN’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.
What does the future look like for the region?
Rebuilding with climate change in mind will be essential. This was not done after the last major cyclone 19 years ago. Roads, housing, utilities should all be built with future storms and flooding in mind.
Sounds expensive, can this be done?
Ironically, climate change makes future-proofing more difficult as the region’s economy, and therefore its capacity to rebuild, has already been depleted by rising temperatures, drought etc.
At the Paris climate summit in 2015, then-prime minister of Mozambique, Carlos Agostinho do Rosario, said: “These weather phenomena affect the government’s efforts to meet national priorities, especially food security, that are critical to poverty reduction.”
Are developed nations helping?
Yes, developed nations, including the UK, are scrambling to send aid and disaster relief teams to the area.
The rich nations also pledged in Paris 2015 to ramp up aid to $100 billion per year in restorative climate funding to poorer nations by 2020. This is because industrialisation in the west caused most of the current rise in global temperatures. But so far less than 10 per cent of this funding has been secured.
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