SOUTHERN AFRICA: New money to mitigate disaster

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In an effort to mitigate the negative impact of climate change, new funding by European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) will help bolster disaster risk reduction and community resilience in Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi and the Comoros.

A statement released on 23 July said the EC had extended the scope of its disaster preparedness programme (DIPECHO) with a new allocation of €5 million (US$7.8 million) for the four southern African countries.

"This is an important step in supporting communities that are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. Experience shows that many lives can be saved if people know what precautions to take and how to react when the disaster strikes," Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said in the statement.

"Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi and the Comoros all suffer the serious effects of tropical storms that develop in the Indian Ocean. This type of action is especially important in a context of rising food prices and climate change," Michel noted.

More storms on the horizon

"The number of extreme weather events has increased sharply in recent years. Climate change already seems to be having a serious humanitarian impact," John Clancy, spokesman for Commissioner Michel, told IRIN.

"The decision to extend it [DIPECHO] to the southwest Indian Ocean reflects an unfortunate reality: more cyclones are occurring in that area, causing ever more structural damage and serious flooding," Clancy said.
According to the 2007 Annual Disaster Statistical Review, published by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED): "Last year's number of reported disasters confirmed the global upward trend in natural disaster occurrence. This upward trend is mainly driven by the increase in the number of reported hydro-meteorological disasters."

In Mozambique, catastrophic flooding in 2000 left up to 800 dead; in 2007 dozens of people were killed, and the country is yet to recover from floods in January 2008.

Over 100 people died when Madagascar was hit by cyclones Fame, Jokwe and Ivan earlier in 2008. The powerful winds, heavy rains and flooding affected over 340,000 people, of whom 190,000 lost their homes.

Cyclone Indhala, which hit Madagascar in 2007, caused over $240 million worth of destruction, according to CRED statistics. Altogether, there were six cyclones in 2007 - the worst year on record - while drought in the parched south has persisted for several years.

Malawi, also hit by floods earlier this year, has turned a corner since 2005, when drought left close to five million people in need of food aid, but the country remains particularly exposed to dry spells and food insecurity.

According to The Climate Change Risk Report by Maplecroft, a UK-based firm that specialises in risk mapping, at the beginning of July, Comoros was the country most vulnerable to the future impacts of global warming, such as increased storms, rising sea levels and agricultural failure.

Weathering the storm

"The funding targets communities that are already vulnerable because of extreme poverty, isolation due to weak infrastructure and difficult communications, and in Malawi and Mozambique, the high incidence of HIV and AIDS," Clancy said.

"The increase in extreme climatic events keeps such communities in a state of constant quasi-emergency, and does not allow them to establish the long-term coping mechanisms they need to allow real development to take off."

Investing in preparedness would not only save lives and relieve suffering, "it also means that limited resources can be used more effectively - the cost of good preparation is a lot less than the cost of clearing up the mess afterwards," Clancy commented.

It pays to prepare "bottom-up"

"Important lessons were learned from the big floods in Mozambique in 2000 and 2001, when hundreds died. The floods of 2007 were of a similar magnitude and in the same area, but the government and actors on the ground were much better prepared," Clancy said.

With the capacity of the Mozambican national disaster management authority (INGC) greatly boosted by 2007, contingency plans for pre-positioning essential relief items and evacuations were put in place. "Around 230,000 people were displaced and/or lost their livelihoods, but large-scale fatalities were avoided," Clancy said.

While bolstering the INGC was a "top-down" approach, the new funds would be more "bottom-up", targeting communities and helping them to organise themselves and be able to take measures to preserve their livelihoods.
According to the EC statement, various types of programmes would be supported, "including practical training in disaster response for community groups and institutions, early warning systems, public information campaigns and small-scale infrastructure works".

"In Madagascar, it has been calculated that a child living in a disaster-prone area loses on average one full school year due to lack of access to or destruction of their schools," Clancy said.

The new funds would assist communities by establishing cyclone- and flood-resistant schools and clinics, "which can also serve as shelters for the community, and by funding the acquisition of small boats, for example, which allow children to continue to access their schools even in heavily flooded areas."

The statement also said implementation of these projects should begin in October 2008, before the onset of the next cyclone season around December.