Cyclone Freddy leaves 225 dead in Malawi, a deforested country and on the front line of the climate emergency | future planet | The USA Print

A new natural disaster associated with climate change has hit southern Africa for the second time in a month. Cyclone Freddy has so far left a balance of 300 dead as it passed through Malawi (225), Mozambique (58) and Madagascar (17) and displaced tens of thousands, in what is already considered one of the worst tropical storms. intense ever recorded. The Government of Malawi has declared a state of emergency and the World Meteorological Organization has said Freddy could have broken the record for the longest-lasting cyclone on earth, surpassing Hurricane-Typhoon John, which lasted 31 days in 1994—experts won’t confirm until it has dissipated. These types of disasters are becoming more frequent due to the consequences of the global climate emergency and come at a time of great vulnerability, especially for Malawi, which is facing the worst cholera outbreak in its history, with more than 1,600 deaths and 53,000 infected.

“Homes, made mostly of mud bricks, have crumbled due to heavy rains and winds. Only on Monday, 84 dead and more than 150 wounded arrived at the Queen’s Elizabeth hospital in Blantyre,” says Marión Péchayre, head of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mission in the country. The images that come from Malawi, the most affected country, show overflowing rivers dragging corpses, families trapped in houses on the verge of collapse, rescue teams working on an endless quagmire… ”We have had no water or electricity for three days. There were dead everywhere. Many parts of the country have been devastated”, says Billy Lyson, a 21-year-old from Blantyre (south of the country), one of the most affected districts.

Homes (in Malawi), made mostly of mud bricks, have collapsed due to heavy rain and wind

Elizabeth de Blantyre, head of mission for Doctors Without Borders

The storm, which originated on February 6 off the coasts of Indonesia and Western Australia, traveled thousands of kilometers across the Indian Ocean before reaching Madagascar on February 19 and landing in Mozambique on February 24. After once again picking up power in the warm waters of the Mozambique Channel, it made landfall again on Saturday and reached Malawi on Sunday, the country that has suffered the worst, both in terms of infrastructure damage and casualties.

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The southern region of the country is always the most affected by natural disasters and the problem in Malawi lies in the response time: “Until the floods do not occur, no action is taken”, explained recently Lucy Mtilatila, the director of the department of climate change from the Malawi Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources. The most affected districts have been Nsanje, Blantyre, Chikwawa, Phalompe Chiradzulu, all located in the south.

Cyclone Freddy is the most visible consequence of the climate emergency that, paradoxically, is suffered by the countries that contribute the least to global warming. Lazarus Chakwera, president of the country, stated it at the 27th United Nations Conference on Climate Change, held last November in Egypt: “Despite our marginal contribution to global warming (referring to less developed countries), we continue to bearing the brunt of the impact of climate change, with 10% of our economic losses caused by natural disasters”.

an unusual cyclone

Cyclone Freddy is one of the longest weather events on record and also one of the most intense. According to the World Meteorological Organization, it has accumulated as much energy on its own as an average hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere.

Cyclone Freddy is one of the longest and most intense since records have been kept

World Meteorological Organization

Malawi, in addition to being one of the countries poorest in the worldis one of the least prepared to deal with climate change: it ranks 163 out of 182 countries in the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Indexan index that measures vulnerability to climate change and their level of preparedness or adaptation the same. The increase in the frequency, duration and intensity of natural disasters leaves this southeastern African country helpless, year after year, which already suffered the destruction of Tropical Storm Ana in January, which left more than 190,000 internally displaced people, 45 deaths and significant damage to the country’s infrastructure network.

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Ana unleashed a cholera outbreak from which Malawi has yet to recover and which continues to set records: never before have there been so many deaths or so many infections. The disease, which was normally concentrated in one or two districts, spread from south to north across the country’s 29 districts. The United Nations and humanitarian organizations have warned that the storm could worsen the situation in flooded areas where sewage treatment and drinking water are inadequate.

Freddy has arrived after a long rainy season that has lasted three months, unlike Cyclone Ana last year, which arrived at the beginning of the rainy season. Julius Ngoma, the national coordinator of the Civil Society Network on Climate Change, explains what this means: “Cyclones are more dangerous as the season progresses, since by the time heavy rains arrive the ground is already saturated with water, causing landslides and flooding. He further adds that the change of variation in the rainy season has led to the loss of agricultural crops, causing low crop yields, loss of biodiversity and loss of cultural heritage.

rampant deforestation

Despite the fact that Malawi is demonstrating efforts to fight against illegal deforestation, such as the implementation of the US aid program Modern Cooking for Healthy Forestswhich is supporting government partners to strengthen the legal and regulatory framework of the forestry sector, deforestation remains a serious problem, especially that associated with charcoal or charcoal. “Forest degradation is rampant in most of the country, resulting in more bare land, especially in the hills and along river banks. Most of the places that have experienced mudslides and flooding during Cyclone Freddy are mountainous and lack trees and vegetation cover,” Ngoma explains.

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Furthermore, only the 14.9% of the population has access to electricity (the statistic drops to 6.6% in rural areas), and families use charcoal for cooking. This causes a massive felling of trees that weakens the soil and makes the land less resistant when the rains arrive, due to the lack of nutrients that sustain it, which increases the risk of landslides.

In a country where 70% of the people are engaged in agriculture on small subsistence farms, the natural disaster has only aggravated an already critical humanitarian situation: last summer, Malawi was placed on the list of food insecurity of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 3.8 million Malawians (20% of the population) face severe food insecurity, according to data from the World Food Program (WFP)and the forecasts made by the organization before Freddy’s arrival already predicted a lean period from October to March 2023.

As Ngoma points out, natural catastrophes occur every year, affecting people who were already harmed the previous year, which worsens the situation of poverty and increases the vulnerability of the communities. The director of services of the World Meteorological Organization, Johan Stander, said in an official statement that Freddy is having a great socio-economic and humanitarian impact on communities. “People will need help, shelter and non-food items like blankets and clothing for at least the next two weeks. You will also need financial help. I would even talk about compensation, because that is what would happen in any other country. People should be compensated for the natural disaster,” says Péchayre, from MSF.

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