climate debt

Rich countries must pay for cyclone devastation in southern Africa

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Climate change, caused by industrialized rich countries, is responsible for the disaster now unfolding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi

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Aerial photo provided by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent shows the scale of the damage caused by Cyclone Idai in the Mozambique port city of Beira.

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.


  • “Instead, we need trusted agencies in civil society to receive aid and direct transfers to the ordinary people affected.”

    Here lies the problem: agencies avoid dealing with Indigenous Peoples, i.e. the customary commoners, preferring to closet themselves with Big Man government. With the exception of Beira, the floods fall within tribal customary land under the authority of chiefs and headmen. Agencies should engage with the customary authorities, for it is the chiefs who have spiritual responsibility for the land.

    In Malawi, the Customary Land Act of 2016 provides for Traditional Land Management Areas, Traditional Authorities and Customary Land Committees, and describes the committees responsible for customary land:

    (3) A land committee shall not allocate land or grant a customary estate without prior approval of the relevant Traditional Authority whose approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.
    4. Land committees shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be responsible for the management of all customary land in a Traditional Land Management Area.

    And the Customary Land Regulations of 2018, No 22 states:

    (3) The base map and land use plan shall highlight the key natural resources that may require protection and management frameworks such as wetlands, fragile lands, hazardous lands and existing infrastructure and service

    Here is the framework awaiting engagement. But, ever since independence, they wait. The OECD governments direct aid to their country compradors, who ensure that the plutonomy continues their plunder in mining, etc. And they don’t even recognize the fact that the ecocide and the global warming actually exists, and that they are responsible.

  • Tyrone,
    Rich countries are controlled by the rich global monopoly capitalists – the plutonomy. It is most certainly relevant. Of course, all countries have their one-percenters in place, but they are merely the compradors of neoliberal capitalism.

    • Thanks for the reply.
      To be clear, I hope, the point I was trying to make is that it’s those individuals in the rich countries – the exploiter countries – who are at fault and should be made to pay. I don’t think the working class should be taxed to pay for the tragic situation in southern Africa.The working class has seen its standard of living deteriorate, while 6 people own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of humanity. They, and their fellow ulta-rich, are the ones who created the system causing the rifts in several of earth’s metabolic systems, including 1.5C temperature rise which has led to super storms, and it’s these few plus their well paid enablers who should be forced to pony up when these disasters strike.

  • It’s my view that it’s not the “rich countries” that are at fault but those who control global monopoly capitalism, and reap enormous profits from their positions, as are those who willingly serve this rapacious system. The fact that most, but not all, of the billionaire class live in capitalism’s triad of Japan, USA/Canada, NW Europe is not relevant. Monopoly capitalism transcends nation states but uses the resources – military, intelligence, informational, diplomatic – to further their greedy ends. Exploitation of people and resources and using nature as a cost free dump is a hallmark of this global system.