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19.11.2019 Ethiopia

With onset of the rains, SADC region on tenterhooks following last season’s cyclones Idai & Kenneth

By Economic Commission for Africa
With onset of the rains, SADC region on tenterhooks following last season’s cyclones Idai & Kenneth

The rains are back in Southern Africa bringing dreadful memories to citizens of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique who in the last rainy season bore the brunt of devastating Cyclones Kenneth and Idai that left thousands dead, millions homeless and infrastructure worth billions destroyed.

It did not take too long for the memories to creep back. The very first rains shattered areas in the eastern region of Zimbabwe that were battered by Idai, with tents being torn and roof tops blown away as the rainy season started with a vengeance they dreaded after experiencing tropical cyclone Idai in particular.

The onset of the rains follows a three-day meeting organized by the Economic Commission for Africa and partners, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the United Kingdom's Met Office, for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to formulate actionable strategies for climate resilient reconstruction of infrastructure post the devastating Idai in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The planning workshop for climate resilient investment in reconstruction and development in SADC Member States was informed by the three countries’ experiences following the two cyclones.

In Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, more than 1 000 people lost their lives, while hundreds of thousands remain in need of aid, following the devastating battering by Cyclone Idai. The World Bank estimates the affected countries will need over US$2 billion to recover. But the countries told the workshop they need more than US$4 billion collectively to rebuild better and stronger.

The overall objective of the workshop, which fell under the ECA’s Building Back Better strategies, was to initiate a series of initiatives to support the integration of climate information services and climate change considerations into resilience building in climate sensitive sectors of the economies of SADC countries.

The workshop reviewed the status of climate information services in the region, explored tools and methods for enhancing the mainstreaming of climate change in development planning, and identified concrete actions towards climate proofing economic activities, ecosystems, human settlements and physical infrastructure, especially in areas projected to be impacted by extreme weather and climate events.

Participants heard from countries first hand experiences of what the impacts of Idai were, why these impacts happened, shared lessons learnt and they were introduced to the types of climate information that is available to them as well as tools for analyzing this information and its application in decision-making.

Representatives from the three countries were clear that they were on tenterhooks as the rainy season fast approached as many remained in need following the devastation never again seen in the region.

Nadia Adriao, representing Mozambique at the workshop, and Fyaupi Mwafongo of Malawi said although progress was being made in rebuilding, much remained to be done with fears increasing as the rains approached.

“Recurrent and severe disasters underscore the need for new thinking and approaches to recovery and resilience-building,” said Mr. Mwafongo.

Said Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Service Department’s Director, Rebecca Manzou; “A hazard in Zimbabwe is a hazard for all in the SADC region. It will affect us all one way or the other so we need our governments to take the lead. We need resources to help us make a difference on the ground. If we do not take the bull by the horns, nothing will happen. Our governments need to show concern and take climate change seriously.”

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Perrance Shiri, agreed that Southern Africa needs to act now to build capacity within member States to urgently build the resilience of economies in the region, infrastructures, ecosystems and communities so they can withstand the impacts of climate change.

“The time is now for capacity building, for experience sharing, for raising awareness for taking this sour reality into account when planning for our development program. If not, in our own eyes, decades of sustainable development gains can be wiped out overnight. Yesterday is history, let’s take today and build strong and resilient futures,” said Mr. Shiri.

James Murombedzi, Chief of the African Climate Policy Center (ACPC) at the ECA said he was satisfied at the end of the workshop that participants had been able to fully reflect on the concept and practice of disaster risk reduction in the context of cyclones Idai and Kenneth and other hazards in the SADC region, and review the status of weather and climate information services (CIS) in Africa, with a focus on the uptake and use of CIS in development planning and practice.

Major takeaways from the workshop
The use of climate information to inform resilience building and early warning responses and building better is still limited on the continent. Several factors, including low capacity to produce, analyse and package climate information, including limited investment in national meteorological and hydro services all contribute to this.

The workshop revealed there is limited capacity in the region to communicate climate information and services to different users; institutional challenges, including policy and legislative frameworks which do not support decision making in a changing climate; and fragmentation of climate services.

Proposed responses that came from participants include advocating for national investment of public resources to build CIS capacities; operationalization of the SADC disaster risk management fund; improved coordination of sectoral responses; capacity building for the use of climate information in critical sectors; and engagement of users in the production of climate information and services.

“One of the most productive parts of the workshop was the sharing of tools and methods for mainstreaming climate information and building resilience, networking and sharing of lessons, experiences, and best practices,” said Mr. Murombedzi.

“We got enough information from the workshop to begin to design concrete responses and initiatives to facilitate the integration of CIS into building back better and building resilience in the region.”

The ACPC and its partners are now working on a regional actionable programme document that will enhance capacity and resilience in SADC member States against the impact of weather and climate risks and disasters such as the tropical cyclone Idai.

Many in the affected regions are silently hoping for a quiet rainy season as their governments and partners such as the ECA continue to work on finding solutions to enhance capacity and resilience against such natural disasters.

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