By Eleanor Hedges Duroy, age 15
On March 14, 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai hit southeast Africa, making landfall in Mozambique and causing floods and heavy rain in neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi. According to the United Nations, it was one of the worst-ever weather-related disasters to hit the Southern Hemisphere. Cyclone Idai killed over 1,000 people, destroyed at least 50,000 homes and affected 3 million people in the region.
Just a few weeks later, on April 21, another cyclone, Cyclone Kenneth, battered a different part of Mozambique, killing 38 and destroying 35,000 homes. To make matters worse, this year’s food crops were washed away in the floods, destroying both survivors’ food and income for the coming year. Malnutrition is a growing threat, as well as the outbreak of cholera from contaminated water. After Cyclone Kenneth, the United Nations pledged to send $13 million to Mozambique and neighboring Comoros Islands, but the destruction is so great that it will only scratch the surface of need.
While many areas of the world experience cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons, for southeast Africa, what is happening now is unprecedented. According to the United Nations, this is the first time in history a cyclone has hit Mozambique twice in one season, and never before with such intensity.
Climate change is impacting the way natural disasters strike. For example, as the Earth’s temperatures increase, the oceans become warmer, and tropical storms become stronger and more frequent. In regard to these cyclones, climate scientist Friederike Otto, from the University of Oxford, told the BBC, “Because of sea-level rise, the resulting flooding is more intense than it would be without human-induced climate change.”
However, when these disasters strike, the inequality that exists in the world is also revealed in a number of ways. For example, as a country with a long coastline where two-thirds of its population live, Mozambique is particularly vulnerable to climate change-induced disasters such as cyclones. Yet citizens in Mozambique are responsible for 55 times less carbon emissions (the gases that cause climate change) than the average American. The International Monetary Fund also lists Mozambique as one of the six poorest nations on Earth, at the same time as its wealth from natural gas is being funneled to the country’s elite and major oil companies in wealthier nations like the United States, England and others.
Dipti Bhatnagar, a climate activist from Friends of the Earth International in Mozambique, believes that the answer lies in global solidarity both to address climate and change the systems that exploit the wealth of countries such as Mozambique. “We don’t all have the same responsibility and we don’t all have the same capability. Those who created this crisis must now support those of us who do not have the capacity to deal with it while it’s coming at us fast and hard,” she told The Nation. Bhatnagar believes that people in countries with high fossil fuel consumption like the United States should examine their moral obligation to international interconnectivity and challenge their leaders to stop viewing the world in terms of profit and loss at the expensive of poorer nations like Mozambique.
Tropical cyclone: A tropical cyclone, hurricane and typhoon are all different words for the same phenomena: a large storm over tropical or subtropical waters. The name changes depending on where in the world they occur. Tropical cyclones occur in the southwest Indian Ocean.
United Nations: An intergovernmental organization that aims to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations and achieve international cooperation.
International Monetary Fund: According to the The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s website, it is an organization of 189 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.
Carbon emissions: Gas formed by burning fossilized remains of dead plants and animals, containing energy originating in ancient photosynthesis. Fossil fuels contain high percentages of carbon, so when they burn, they create high levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that causes global warming and climate change.
Unprecedented: Never happened before.