The devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe should be a wake up call to governments in the SADC region on disaster preparedness.
Governments in the region need to have strong civil protection agencies that will ensure that there is minimal damage and zero loss of life when such disasters struck. The loss of life as a result of Cyclone Idai is regrettable and we must derive a lesson from this so as to avoid such calamities in future.
As we have pointed out in the past, climate change is here to stay and the sooner governments and citizens in the region realise this, the better.
With climate change, more such disasters as we have seen this week are going to happen in the near future and the key is what must be done when they strike next.
Apart from the cyclones, the natural disasters also bring droughts and it is a pity that the SADC region is once again facing a drought this year following poor rains across the region.
Unfortunately, as is always the case, it is usually the poor people who are at the receiving end of these natural disasters.
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.
This year, the cost is likely to be higher given the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. This will obviously compete with the cost of importing food to cover the shortfalls across the region.
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 there are able to plan and mitigate the effects. There is also a need for strong early warning systems to those people likely to be affected. We need to be proactive and ensure those likely to be affected are evacuated before disaster strikes.
We need to ask ourselves whether vulnerable communities are well-informed of the pending disasters and whether authorities are 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. The region has in the past been hit by similar cyclones, Eline in 2000 and Dineo in 2016, but it appears we still act as if we are experiencing these kind of calamities for the first time.
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 proactive and always be on guard against natural disasters.
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.”
How right he was. SADC must therefore be on guard against natural disasters so as to protect precious lives and property.