Step up disaster preparedness across the region

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The devastation caused by Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth in the Comoros, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe should be a wake-up call to governments in the SADC region on disaster preparedness. Barely a month after Cyclone Idai hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Cyclone Kenneth hit the SADC region, causing damage in the Comoros, Tanzania and Mozambique. Although not at the scale of Idai, Kenneth still caused serious damage to those three countries. And this came a few days after floods hit KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa, causing deaths and destruction to infrastructure. In Mozambique, it was reported that the total number of people killed was 38 by Monday and an unaccounted number injured in Mozambique and the Comoros. More than 35 100 houses had been recorded as totally destroyed or partially destroyed, according to the Mozambique National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC). Five health facilities were recorded as damaged and at least 75 classrooms had been destroyed or damaged, impacting about 4 000 students, according to INGC. In Comoros, four deaths had been reported and 182 people were injured. The electricity grid has been damaged, leaving the majority of the island nations’ inhabitants without power. The Cyclone Kenneth floods have seen the United Nations (UN) provide a US$13 million to assist in food provision, safe drinking water and repair damaged infrastructure. Cyclone Kenneth comes while the SADC region is still counting the loses caused by Idai. This calls for serious disaster preparedness and responsiveness by authorities across the region. 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 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, it is usually the poor people who are at the receiving end of these natural disasters. They 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 three 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 Cyclones Idai and Kenneth. 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 needs to be continuously churned out educating vulnerable members of society on what causes some of these natural disasters and to equip authorities so they 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 from our past and how do we move forward? Natural disasters will always be with us and there is no way we can avoid them. Similar cyclones have hit — 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 UN 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.

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