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Natural disasters

Dangerous signs of climate change

Destructive cyclones recently hit Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique. Experts warn that disasters of similar magnitude will become more frequent due to climate change.

Tanyariwa Sithole used to own a home and a busy shop. Now, she cries every day because she lost everything when Cyclone Idai hit Zimbabwe in March. Hundreds of lives were lost and homes were destroyed. Overnight, 47-year-old Sithole was turned into a “charity case”. Two of her employees died as the strong winds and severe flooding pounded the area Chimanimani in the east of the country.

Cyclone Idai hit large parts of south-eastern Africa – not only Zimbabwe, but also the neighbouring countries Mozambique and Malawi. Many people died; more than 2.6 million people were affected. Heavy floods washed away entire towns.

Meteorologist Melinda Hungwe explains that “fluctuations in the world’s temperature, as well as ocean warming, have led to an upsurge of tropical cyclones.” Indeed, two cyclones hit Zimbabwe within a very short period of time. Hungwe expects the impacts of climate change “to get worse” as temperatures warm up.

Joseph Tasosa, of the Zimbabwe National Environment Trust, agrees: “Climate change leads to warmer air temperatures. This means that more and more rain is held and then released at one go,” he says. Both Cyclones Idai and Kenneth released what would normally be a year’s worth of rain in a very short time.

As cyclones leave a trail of devastating damage, “it is high time politicians tackle the climate change impacts,” Tasosa points out. “We should challenge our political leaders to push for the implementation of the Paris obligations.” He warns that countries like Zimbabwe are set to suffer most.

In Paris in 2015, the world’s rich nations pledged to ramp up 100 $ billion in climate finance by 2020 in order to support both the mitigation of climate change and the adaptation to the impacts. To date, far too little money has been made available for adaptation (please note article by Liane Schalatek in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/07, Focus section). 

But time is running out. Climate-change expert Happison Chikova says that frequent cyclones are “visible signs” of climate change which is “the largest single threat to humanity.”

Jeffrey Moyo is a journalist and lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.