It was Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University in New York, the United States of America who said: “Disasters are usually a good time to re-examine what we've done so far, what mistakes we've made, and what improvements should come next.”
We are reminded of this saying as the rainy reason begins across the SADC region amid violent storms which have cost lives and destroyed property in countries such as Zimbabwe. In East Africa, torrential rains killed people and destroyed property in Kenya and Tanzania.
The region is still counting costs from the devastation caused by cyclones Idai and Kenneth in the Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe in March this year.
Natural disasters have hit the SADC region over the few past years which have kept us thinking whether we have learnt from our mistakes and are prepared to face them in future.
As we speak, the region faces a mixed season, with climate experts predicting normal to above normal rains from October to December, and normal to below normal rains from January to March next year.
This therefore means that most SADC member states could still be hit by a drought this coming season because January to March is usually the peak of the cropping season.
We have also been at the mercy of floods and other natural calamities, thanks to climate change. Droughts and natural disasters usually hit the vulnerable members of societies the hardest. As we report elsewhere in this report, victims of Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe are still living in tents as authorities still have not provided them with decent accommodation, eight months after the disaster struck in March. They are extremely worried as the rainy season begins in the country.
This raises questions as to why authorities have still not provided decent accommodation to these vulnerable communities. Are those in authorities also informed and equipped to deal with the natural disasters?
Have we drawn lessons learnt from our past and how do we move forward? It is a fact that natural disasters will always be with us and there is no way we can avoid them.
Do those in power ever take heed of the Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (RVAA) which is the main information system that provides an in-depth understanding of different dimensions of food and nutrition security and vulnerability in the SADC region.
This unit has always advocated for information dissemination on pending natural disasters, food security and vulnerability of various groups of people across the region. This is meant to alert authorities of pending disasters so that they take heed.
While natural disasters cannot be stopped from occurring, SADC member states can arm themselves with information to cope and address the impact of natural disasters.
The role of the media in information dissemination, especially on natural disasters which have come about as a result of climate change, is therefore of paramount importance.
It was former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2015, said:
“Climate change has happened because of human behaviour, therefore it’s only natural it should be us, human beings, to address this issue. It may not be too late if we take decisive actions today.”
Natural disasters have over the past few years largely devastated smaller nations, a majority of them in Africa. The continent is home to 14 percent of the world’s population, but it only emits 3 percent of global fossil fuel carbon and 5.3 percent of global greenhouse gases.
Yet when it comes to the economic costs of natural disasters, Africa suffers the most. For example, the El Nino-induced drought that hit the SADC region in 2015/2016 is understood to have affected 39 million people in the region. This resulted in SADC governments and their partners forking out more than US$1 billion in humanitarian aid.
We believe the issue of climate change and natural disasters can no longer be ignored as it affects every facet of life – from the rich to the poorest of the poor.
Information therefore needs to be continuously churned out educating vulnerable members of society on what causes some these natural disasters and to equip authorities so they are able to plan and mitigate the effects.
After all, it is said those who are fore-warned are fore-armed to deal with a particular problem. The SADC region therefore needs to be always on guard against natural disasters. Information dissemination is therefore key.