By Gabriel-Eddie Njoroge

In the space of a few weeks, Mozambique experienced devastation caused by a series of cyclones, namely, Idai and Kenneth.  According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), this was a wake-up call about more high-impact tropical cyclones, coastal flooding and intense rainfall linked to climate change.

A package of disaster risk reduction priorities to strengthen the southern Africa nation’s early warnings and cut socio-economic damages from weather, climate and water-related hazards such as tropical cyclones, floods and drought is needed. This was recommended by a fact-finding mission sent to Mozambique by WMO.

“The two cyclones are a wake-up call that Mozambique needs to build resilience,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a message to an international pledging conference to secure support for reconstruction. “Although the number of tropical cyclones globally is expected to reduce in the future, the number of most intense tropical cyclones (category 4 and 5), associated with more rainfall, will increase in a warming climate.”

Taalas also stated that future sea level rise will exacerbate the impact of storm surge on coastal regions, raising concerns about flooding from the sea, particularly for low lying cities such as Beira in Mozambique. Therefore, this raises concerns regarding Mozambique’s vulnerability to floods from both rivers and seas.

The meteorological and hydrological sector, according to the fact-finding team too, requires nearly US$ 27 million, to be used for reconstruction, rehabilitation and modernization of infrastructure and equipment, land surveys for flood risk mapping and satellite rainfall estimation, improved data base management systems, training on the latest forecasting products, improved standard operational procedures and better communication tools.

This is recommended for all countries to ensure disaster preparedness is at peak level to avoid the scenario in Mozambique where, since the cyclone was not anticipated, they were caught unprepared thus major loss both materially and life was experienced.

This is whereby, Idai made landfall near Beira on 14th march at Category 4 strength thereby starting off one of the worst weather-related disasters to hit the southern hemisphere  in which months’ worth of rain fell in a matter of hours.

This led to huge humanitarian consequences where the cyclone and subsequent flooding caused the death of more than 600 people, injured around 1600, affected more than 1.8 million and caused an estimated US$ 773 million in damages to buildings, infrastructure and agriculture.

“In times of floods, Mozambicans seek safety on roofs of buildings. But the ferocity of Idai’s winds blew the roofs away. The magnitude of the cyclone, the size of the storm surge and the extent of the flooding overwhelmed years of work by authorities in Sofala to increase community resilience to floods,” said Felipe Lucio,who headed the fact finding team of meteorologists and hydrologists and who used to head Mozambique’s national meteorological service.

“It is a salutary warning about the future scale of the combined challenges from urbanization and climate change-related sea level rise and extreme weather. This will necessitate much greater emphasis on improved land use, urban and floodplain planning,” she added.

Tropical cyclone Kenneth made landfall on 25th April in Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique and was the most intense tropical cyclone ever known to have hit the area. It also coincided with the fact-finding team’s visit to the region.

While their visit and cyclone Kenneth ran concurrently, the WMO mission focused on Idai, especially in terms of damages to hydro-meteorological equipment and institutional coordination and collaboration involving the meteorological, hydrological and disaster management services.

However, the general conclusions are meant to inform plans and investments in strengthening the early warning system in a multi-hazard approach and disaster risk management in the country, and eventually in the world, particularly during reconstruction to ensure building back better and overall strengthening of resilience.