Voices of the trust

Rethinking the SADC Community Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Model

This is a joint declaration by civil society organisations on disaster preparedness.


In March 2019, one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern hemisphere, Cyclone Idai, formed off the east coast of Mozambique, making landfall during the night of 14 to 15 March 2019 near Beira City. Its impact caused catastrophic damage across the southern Africa region devastating large areas across three countries: Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Communities, local, national and regional governments were ill-prepared and unable to provide protection to the most vulnerable social groups. More than 3 million people were affected, out of which 1.85 million people were in Mozambique. [1]  

On 25 April, Tropical Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique, just six weeks after Idai and was the first cyclone to make landfall this far north in Mozambique. Entire villages were flattened and thousands of people were displaced, in a country already dealing with the consequences of drought and Cyclone Idai. This is the first time in recorded history that two strong tropical cyclones have hit Mozambique in the same season.  

The number of cyclones and extreme floods have been increasing in Southern Africa due to the change in weather patterns likely caused by climate change. While the link between these two cyclones and climate change is currently inconclusive, the science is clear: the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events in southern Africa are expected to increase due to climate change.

Trail of destruction

Despite official warnings of the approaching cyclone, Idai arrived unannounced for many of the rural poor who suffered the worst from its impact. [2] Access to adequate housing and safe shelter, safe water, health and education was severely limited. Women and children bore the brunt of the disaster and one month on, about 1 million children were reported affected by the cyclone and the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) estimated the number of pregnant women that were affected by the storm at about 75 000. [3] By end of May, at least 400 children in the one of the most-affected provinces, Sofala, Mozambique, were still separated from their parents as an effect of the cyclone. [4] Human Rights groups reported widespread hunger among the displaced, with insufficient food available at temporary shelters set up to house displaced people, food being sold at exorbitant prices on the market [5] and alleged sexual exploitation of women by local leaders involved in food distributions. [6]  

Flooding led to the displacement of 87,000 people in Malawi, 160 000 people in Mozambique, whilst 22,000 were reported to have been displaced in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands. [7] A deadly cholera epidemic broke out in Beira, Mozambique in the aftermath of the cyclone.

Over 1,000 were confirmed dead with many still missing. Mozambique alone recorded 603 deaths, with 59 reported dead in Malawi.8 In Zimbabwe, 344 deaths were recorded, with state media reporting a month after the cyclone, that of the dead, 92 were teachers and school pupils, with 102 pupils still unaccounted for. [9]  

Thousands of homes, key health, transport and education infrastructure were destroyed in the affected areas. Food and nutrition insecurity has increased following the cyclone. In Mozambique alone, between 644 000 and 1.2 million hectares of crops were destroyed at the beginning of the harvest season, which is more than 50% of the total acreage of the country. [10]  

Tropical Cyclone Kenneth led to a further 45 deaths, 19 health facilities damaged, 45,000 houses destroyed or damaged, a number of schools damaged affecting more than 41,000 students, and an additional 374,000 people were plunged into need. As of 22 May, 223 suspected cases of cholera had been recorded, with 4,000 malaria cases reported. [11]  


The suffering and extensive damage left in the trail of Cyclone Idai remains in all three countries as many of the affected across the three countries continue to live in precarious conditions with governments slow to implement speedy and adequate recovery and reconstruction efforts.  

Only a fifth of the people in biggest need received aid and help, due to the lack of access and the destroyed infrastructure, whilst people in less need have received more help. [12] In Cabo Delgado, for instance, many areas remain inaccessible. Relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts remain severely underfunded, with national and international community contributions sorely inadequate. Recognizing that while reconstruction efforts are underway, acute humanitarian needs remain across the region, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller embarked on a mission to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi early June to assess response efforts, raise awareness, mobilize additional resources and galvanize international support for the ongoing response. Evidently the damage brought by the cyclones is widespread and recovery efforts across the SADC region will take a long time and continue to require contributions from Governments, the private sector, civil society organisations, the media and ordinary citizens from the region and the international community.  

Construction of disaster

Pre-existing patterns of exclusion, inequality and discrimination are central to vulnerability and the political and economic construction of disasters. Cyclone Idai was an unusually aggressive and prolonged storm, and Cyclone Kenneth compounded the situation by occurring in the context of stretched resources and existing vulnerabilities in northern Mozambique. Such strong weather-events are predicted to increase due to the effects of climate change, with people living in poverty, and those who are marginalized or discriminated against being more vulnerable to their impacts, given they are likely to have fewer resources and options. While natural hazards may happen, they need not become disasters. Instead, disasters occur when extreme natural hazards impact communities that are exposed and made vulnerable by economic, social and political decisions which result in their marginalization, over exposure to hazards and limit their resources and capacities to respond autonomously.  Thus, while short, mid-term and long-term solutions are urgently required to address immediate needs, and the protection of the several economic and social rights of affected people – the poor who are most at risk yet least culpable – solutions must also include the rights to meaningful participation in governance and decision-making on matters which relate to risk reduction and the building of resilient communities and economies in the region.

Who pays the cost?

Early government estimates in Zimbabwe put the cost of emergency, recovery and reconstruction efforts in the country at USD 612 million. [13]  The government set aside $50m to repair the damage caused by Cyclone Idai with the funds allocated to capacitating the Civil Protection Unit as well as repairing roads, schools, power and water infrastructure. The Minister of Finance is on record as saying the US $50m was “the social impact of (a much-criticised 2 percent tax on all electronic transfers which he introduced last October raising the cost of transactions for poor ordinary Zimbabweans) in action”. [14]

In Mozambique, a Post Disaster Needs Assessment conducted by UNDP, the European Union, the World Bank and the African Development Bank estimates the needs for post-cyclone reconstruction in the social, productive, and infrastructure sectors affected by the two cyclones in the Sofala, Manica, Tete, Zambezia, Inhambane, Nampula and Cabo Delgado provinces at US$3.2 billion. [15] Of this amount, a donor pledging conference convened by the government of Mozambique at the end of May yielded $1.2 billion — a little over a third of the goal — with concerns that not all of these commitments will materialize. [16] This was after the IMF Board had earlier approved a $118.2m rapid credit facility to Mozambique for reconstruction and to catalyse additional financing from donors and the international community. While the facility carries zero interest and comes with a 5.5-year grace period, it matures in 10 years [17], raising concern that Mozambique, and other poor and already highly indebted countries, are increasingly shouldering the cost of loss and damage from climate change, and falling into a ‘climate debt trap.’ [18]  

It is clear that the governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe will not be able to cope with cost of relief and recovery on their own. In the face of this burden the international community, among whom several countries carry the historical responsibility for climate change, can and must do more to support recovery efforts as all states in a position to do so have the legal obligation to provide international assistance and cooperation to protect the rights of people affected by crisis.

Is the region prepared? – The case for a regional dialogue

Having longstanding partnerships, convening a dialogue that will provide a platform for reflecting on and rethinking the humanitarian disaster preparedness and response models and approaches in Southern Africa. Engagements with partners in the region have resulted in indications of interest and potential for partnership in co-convening the regional dialogue from SADC CNGO, Action Aid, Plan International RESA, CARE International, the Southern Africa Youth Forum, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association and the African Centre on Philanthropy and Social Investment (ACPSI) all of whom the present concept note is presently being consulted.

Similar Posts