Southeast African countries were hit hard in February and March 2023 by what may be the longest-lasting tropical cyclone ever recorded. Tropical Cyclone Freddy wreaked havoc in Mozambique, Madagascar and Malawi, where flooding, high winds and mudslides damaged homes, hospitals, schools and farms. Malawi was the most impacted with more than half a million individuals being displaced. As of March 23, 2023, the death toll in the country stood at 511 with 533 Malawians missing according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In addition to huge losses of life and widespread infrastructure damage, officials and humanitarian organizations have raised alarm over increased rates of cholera and other waterborne diseases in the wake of the storm. The U.N., Doctors Without Borders and other organizations have mobilized in response to the crisis, offering funds and support for government-led responses to the devastation.
Malawian Artists Making a Difference
One African effort to support the cause, organized by the Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) and Mibawa Television, was a Cyclone Freddy relief concert in Blantyre, Malawi. The concert featured Malawian Afropop artists Tuno, Sam Smack and Tarill, among others; and hip-hop artists Gibo Pearson, Waxy Kay and Phyzix (who chairs MUM’s Southern Chapter). Much of the concert featured gospel groups, including The Ndirande Anglican Voices, Princess Chitsulo and King James Phiri. As of March 22, the total amount of funds raised and items donated have not yet been reported, though Phyzix has indicated that survivors in several locations will be supported by the proceeds.
In an interview with BBC News, R&B Afropop artist Bucci Worldwide promoted the cyclone relief concert and shared his experience on the ground in Blantyre. The artist traveled throughout his hometown region and distributed donations at centers where thousands of displaced people are waiting to be rehoused. In his interview, Bucci spoke about the urgent need for funds and supplies to support the country as it first completes rescue and emergency response missions and then rebuilds. In addition to the immediate housing and health crises created by the storm, damage to crops and livestock, schools and homes will each have long-term impacts on the well-being of residents.
A Record-Breaking Storm
The World Meteorological Organization has yet to determine whether Cyclone Freddy is in fact the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record. Regardless of the organization’s findings, the storm’s path and impact were unique: first formed in the Timor Sea between Australia and Indonesia, the cyclone crossed the entire South Indian Ocean before making landfall in Madagascar in late February. After heading back towards Madagascar, it looped back to the mainland again and hit Mozambique, then Malawi, in early March. Cyclone Freddy covered a total of more than 8,000 kilometers during its 34-day lifespan.
One record unquestionably broken by the storm, NASA reports, is its accumulated cyclone energy (ACE). With the highest ACE in history, the cyclone’s wind strength amounted to more energy than the entire average U.S. hurricane season.
Hope for the Future
The people of Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar are no strangers to strong cyclones. During his interview with BBC Bucci noted: “It’s been a historic time for us…We’ve had cyclones before but this one was a very specific, major one. We’ve lost a lot of people.” His call for support from within and beyond his country joins that of many organizations which helped prepare for and respond to the catastrophic storm.
These groups, for example, have helped reign in the cholera outbreak. According to OCHA, cholera infections in Malawi stood at 1,424 in the week ending March 20, down from 1,956 the previous week. Before Cyclone Freddy made landfall, UNICEF implemented its impactful “Early Warnings for All” campaign in the region. The World Health Organization offered funds amounting to $7.9 million (in addition to personnel and health worker training), while $5.5 million was released from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CEF). The Pan-African Parliament, in response to a plea from a Malawian representative, affirmed solidarity with the country.
Beyond the need for funds and supplies, efforts like the Cyclone Freddy relief concert offer those in Blantyre an opportunity to stand, sing and dance together as they battle the latest in climate catastrophe. During his performance in Blantyre this March, Bucci sang his new song, “One Malawi,” which he wrote in the immediate aftermath of the storm. With an uplifting Afropop beat and a catchy refrain, Bucci hopes “One Malawi” can help remind Malawians of their collective and enduring strength. Surely, the Cyclone Freddy relief concert has offered that and more for Malawians of all walks of life and will continue to give the people of Malawi strength as the proceeds are put to use.
– Hannah Carrigan