A tropical cyclone has killed at least 1,000 people in Mozambique, and is now devastating parts of Zimbabwe and Malawi. Tropical Cyclone Idai hit the port city of Beira on Friday, knocking out communications and electrical networks and flooding most of the city and surrounding areas. An assessment team sent by the Red Cross and Red Crescent describes the damage in Beira as “massive and horrifying.” Up to 90% of the city has been destroyed.
Environmental activists in southern Africa describe the destruction as another illustration of how climate change caused by the rich is having its worst effects in the world’s poorest countries. The following statement was issued on Monday, March 18, by the Centre for Natural Resources Governance in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Rich countries must compensate victims of climate change disasters
Cyclone Idai is sweeping across Southern Africa with Mozambique and Zimbabwe being the hardest hit. More than 200 people have died across the region since the storm hit on 4 March. In Zimbabwe Chimanimani district is the hardest hit, with more than 65 people confirmed dead as of Sunday 17 March whilst hundreds are still missing. Hundreds of homes were swept away whilst road infrastructure was destroyed, rendering Chimanimani inaccessible for rescue efforts.
Whilst human life is beyond monetary value, the loss in terms of damage to property can reach billions of dollars, and some of the families may never recover from their loss unless they are properly compensated. And yet the big question is who must take responsibility for compensating the affected people?
The link between extreme weather events and climate change can no longer be disputed. Climate change, being a culmination of unrelenting emission of greenhouse gases, mainly by the industrialized rich countries, is responsible for the disaster unfolding in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi – countries with among the world’s lowest emissions rates.
However, whilst rich countries have enough resources to cushion their populations from some of the extreme effects of climate change, poor countries have limited resources to cope with climate change-related disasters. Had there been enough adaptation resources, a significant number of lives could have been saved. Many were washed away whilst sleeping in their homes in the dead of the night.
Whilst the benefits of greenhouse gas emissions are enjoyed by the rich countries, the poor countries are on the receiving end of deleterious effects of climate change. Sadly, given the reluctance of rich countries to take drastic action towards carbon emission reductions, natural disasters are set to increase resulting in more loss of lives and property in the poor countries. Sadly majority of the victims have no idea as to who is chiefly responsible for their calamities.
The situation unfolding in our region is of global significance. It is a consequence of human action and those contributing more to climate change ought to compensate the victims.
The Centre for Natural Resource Governance is of the view that the rich countries must pay their climate debt to the Zimbabwean people – but the Zanu PF government and Minister Mthuli Ncube cannot be trusted to manage the payments.
Instead, we need trusted agencies in civil society to receive aid and direct transfers to the ordinary people affected. This could be done simply by arranging payout systems in the affected parts of Zimbabwe, so that everyone living in those areas would get a reparations payment. There is need to compensate families for loss of lives, destruction of homes and even loss of food, livestock and domestic utensils.
The situation is dire in fragile states where governments have misplaced priorities which relegate human security to humanitarian work of Non-Governmental Organisations and well-wishers.