Just like many other countries on the African continent, Malawi started off the year 2022 hoping to recover and resuscitate an ailing economy that had been ravaged by a two-year global health crisis.
This was however not the case as in the very first month of the year, the country was hit by tropical storm Ana and and tropical storm Gombe just weeks later.
For other countries, days of incessant flood inducing rains may not have much of an impact in the long run, but for Malawi, the situation is different. It can take years to recover from the damage caused by such disasters.
For instance, some communities in the flood prone lower Shire districts are yet to fully recover from the impact of cyclone Idai which battered the country in 2019, while some of the people who lost their homes to floods this year, are still raising their families in makeshift houses where proper food, security and privacy are a luxury.
Loss and damage
According to data from the Malawi government, tropical cyclone Idai affected over 975,600 people (5.4 percent of the population), displaced 86,976 people and 60 were killed. The disaster cost the country US$ 220 million.
This year, Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) implemented a four-month recovery plan of about US$ 85 million dollars to assist those affected.
Unlike the previous tropical storms, the damage from this year’s heavy rainfall is now a recurring nightmare that many Malawians cannot escape from. Heavy flooding on Shire River which is the main source of the country’s hydropower electricity caused significant damage to a power station. As such, the nation is having to endure eight-to-ten-hour blackouts on a daily basis.
The energy crisis that is now having a significant impact on economic activities is just one of the numerous impacts of climate change in Malawi. The biggest is damage to property and loss of much-needed crops. An estimated 115,388 hectares of various crops got washed away this year alone.
Not only does the country’s economy heavily rely on agricultural produce such as tobacco to keep it afloat, but a majority of Malawians are subsistence farmers who need adequate amounts of rainfall to ensure that they are able to continuously feed their families until the next growing season.
Catherine Madera from flood-hit Chikwawa district pleaded for assistance after receiving a donation of food items by National Bank of Malawi.
The woman had lost her home and all of her crops when her village flooded.
“The floods affected me and my family very much, when the waters came, the maize in my garden was almost matured and the vegetables were ready for harvest,” she said.
“Now, I have nothing, not even crops to sell and earn a living from,” Catherine added.
Catherine is among 190,000 people who were displaced from their homes this year. DoDMA also registered 46 deaths and to this day, 18 people are still missing.
Preparing for COP27
This year, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) will be held in Egypt. Once more, Malawi is once more expected to represent Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and push for agreements that will benefit them.
Locally, preparations have already started to help map out demands and expectations for all LDCs.
Speaking recently at a meeting in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, Julius Ngoma who is National Coordinator for the Civil Society Network on Climate Change disclosed that the estimates of the damage caused by tropical storms are likely lower than what is required on the ground and therefore would be difficult to make a proper assessment.
“Currently what we are lacking as a country and Africa as a whole is a method on how we can properly assess how much is being damaged when we experience floods and cyclones, suffice to say, about five percent of the country’s GDP is lost to such disasters,” Ngoma explained.
He believes that once clear methodologies are implemented, the country will be able to effectively make demands that can ensure that loss and damage from climate change is well financed.
“Based on the outcomes of COP26, there was no clear direction or agreement on financing loss and damage in developing countries.”
“We hope to intensify these discussions locally and come up with methodologies and mechanisms which we will put forward to developed countries and give them a picture of how financing loss and damage can be done,” Ngoma said.
More loss and damage in the future…
After countries in southern Africa were hit by three cycles and two tropical storms in a space of six weeks earlier this year, researchers from the World Weather Attribution revealed that the storms were fueled by climate change.
In the study the scientists analysed weather patterns today compared to the past, however they say that the precise contribution of climate change to the event could not be quantified, due to the absence of comprehensive historical records of rainfall in the region.
One of the scientists involved in the study confirmed to the BBC that climate change was making the storms worse.
If this is anything to go by, then, Southern African nations should brace themselves for more devastating storms that will leave their most vulnerable communities in dire need of financial assistance.
Considering that COP27 will be held in Africa, the countries’ leaders can use this to their advantage and ensure that they are heard and the demands which require quick action are met.