On March 14, 2019, a massive storm made landfall on Mozambique’s coast bringing heavy rains, flooding and chaos. The storm hit Beira, the fourth largest city in the country, hardest. With winds blowing over 105 miles per hour and torrential rains following it, Cyclone Idai became one of the most destructive storms in the past few years. Shortly after, Cyclone Kenneth struck the northern part of Mozambique with 140 mph winds and even heavier rainfall, creating more damage to the infrastructure in the region. Severe weather has affected all aspects of life in the country, and in particular, those living in poverty in Mozambique.
Mozambique is one of the poorest nations in the world with a GDP per capita of roughly $502. Although the poverty rate decreased from 59 percent to 48 percent, inequality still exists in the region between urban and rural areas. According to the World Bank, roughly 80 percent of poor people in Mozambique live in rural areas. Extreme weather conditions like cyclones or flooding exacerbate these inequalities. Because of this, the aftermath of these harsh storms more heavily affect people living in poverty.
Four Ways Extreme Weather Affects Poverty in Mozambique
1. Extreme Weather Destroys Local Infrastructure: Cyclone Idai caused more than $1 billion in damage to infrastructures like roads, bridges and dams in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The storm destroyed roughly 100,000 homes and one million acres of crops as well and it heavily damaged 90 percent of the infrastructure in the port city of Beira upon impact. Hospitals, schools and business could not withstand the storm’s high wind speeds, even though people built them to hold up against 75 mile-per-hour winds.
Many cities in Mozambique did not have the resources to combat these storms, making the likelihood of the preparedness of rural areas for these disasters significantly lower. For the most part, solving the issue of poverty in Mozambique came second to disaster relief. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment stated that the country would need $3.2 billion for reconstruction and recovery efforts. Thankfully, however, developing partners have already pledged up to $1.2 billion to help begin the process of recovering the lost infrastructure.
2. Extreme Weather Displaces Citizens from Their Homes: The storm affected roughly three million people, and about 1.5 million were children. Just outside of the city Pemba, the destruction of mud houses forced roughly 15,000 people to move to overcrowded shelters or stay outside. This displacement made relief efforts even more difficult and urgent. As the storm stranded many people outside of their homes, they required more time to administer survival equipment and begin rebuilding processes. Many rural citizens in Mozambique will not only have to rebuild their entire home, but also have to handle the economic burden of the loss of their arable land.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been working tirelessly and assisted more than half of these people in isolated and urban areas. The number of people living in shelters in the Sofala Province decreased from 16,600 people to 12,812 people in seven days. Although it is a slow process, these relief efforts are making a significant impact.
3. It increases the spread of diseases: One of the major effects of the two most recent cyclones has been the increase of cholera cases spreading across the country. Due to contamination of clean drinking water by flooding, there are reports of over 3,000 cases in Mozambique alone. Many shelters became very crowded after these natural disasters, which only increased the probability of cholera and other diseases like malaria to spread.
Luckily, there was a massive campaign by UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam and other relief agencies to vaccinate people against this outbreak. These organizations distributed around 900,000 doses of the vaccine to high-risk areas around Beira. However, this outbreak heightened the effects of extreme weather and had a dangerous effect on the lives of many people.
4. It Halts Agricultural Production: A large part of Mozambique’s economy revolves around agriculture. This industry contributes to more than a quarter of its GDP and employs roughly 80 percent of its labor force. This leaves the country’s economy very susceptible to extreme weather damages. When disasters hit, they impact the poorer populations living in rural areas the most.
Cyclone Idai destroyed 50 percent of the country’s annual crops, which are the main source of income for a lot of people. If extreme weather patterns of this force continue, a food scarcity crisis might begin in the country, and the economy might suffer those effects as well. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been adamant about focusing relief efforts in Mozambique as a top priority. FAO has called for $19 million to support heavily affected regions for three months to resume food production and assist fishing communities. By fulfilling this request, these areas can begin the process of rebuilding these vital industries.
For years, poverty in Mozambique has been a persistent problem for many people living in rural areas. Recently, extreme weather events have become increasingly more powerful and destructive. Various organizations are providing relief efforts that make a huge difference in the region such as the U.N.’s International Disaster Relief System and the United Nations World Food Programme. However, rebuilding efforts from this cyclone are far from over. Disaster preparedness is now becoming a focus for the government regarding infrastructure improvements. In order to end poverty in Mozambique, the country must use better techniques to protect its citizens and the land they depend on.
– Sydney Blakeney