On March 14, a cyclone ripped through the South Eastern coast of Africa. The hurricane called Idai affected Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, tearing various regions in these countries apart. By the time it was done, over 1,000 people were dead, more than 100,000 houses had been destroyed and over $1 billion worth of damage had been done. The hurricane brought with it incredibly strong winds, the likes of which these countries had never experienced and proof, if any was ever needed, that a changing climate affects both the rich and poor countries alike.
In the aftermath of hurricane Idai, it became clear that despite the increased global outcry on the subject of climate change, these African countries were not prepared for the worst. From inadequate infrastructures and the lack of operational emergency systems down to the mindset of their leaders, these affected nations were not prepped for such a devastating occurrence. Reading through various detailed reports of hurricane Idai, I realised that this incident could as well happen to most other African countries with similar or worse catastrophic results. And still we aren’t preparing for them.
According to a World Bank Report, by the year 2050, there will be an estimated 140 million climate refugees across the world. Not surprisingly, the majority of these refugees are predicted to come from many countries in the developing world; and a measured look at the current trends would show the validity of this prediction. From the droughts in Somalia to Cyclone Idai, developing countries in Africa is expected to be worst hit by the effects of climate change. In the same light, Euromonitor has also predicted that by the year 2030, six megacities in the world will be created. ‘Mega cities’ according to the report refer to cities that have populations of 10 million people or more. Five of these cities is estimated to be in current developing nations, with two expected to be in Africa.
With this knowledge, it is natural to expect that developing cities would be the most concerned about climate change and that its governments are prioritising the building of suitable infrastructure that will bolster the nation’s ability to withstand the adverse effects of climate change and support a sizeable population. However this does not seem to be the case. Developing countries seem to be the least proactive towards climate change issues.
One key factor for this lukewarm attitude is that most of these countries cannot afford to care about climate change, they have more pressing and immediate challenges; added to the fact that these people cause the least degree of harm to the environment, one tends to feel an extra dose of sympathy for their plight.
From overpopulation, hunger and poverty down to underdevelopment alongside a plethora of other challenges crucial to communal preservation, most of these poorer nations are engaged quite literally in the fight for their survival. Their immediate efforts, as well as what little resources they have, are directed towards development, not necessarily climate change readiness. It can be justifiably argued that climate change poses a direct threat to their survival and developmental goals however as a person living in such a ‘developing’ country, it is clear that while climate change poses a great danger, these other challenges are the proverbial barbarians already at our gates.
Mozambique, for instance, is the sixth poorest nation on earth and has been struggling for quite some time to make ends meet. With such a sad reality, it is a herculean task for Mozambique to build an infrastructurally-sound city at all, not to talk of building mega cities advanced enough to handle climate change. Even in developing countries with better economies, the situation isn’t much different. In Lagos State Nigeria (Lagos being one of the predicted megacities) while the government expresses concern for the environment, this is still only measured in terms of blocked drainages and floods. The concept of planning for climate change and its attendant ills is still alien.
In the aftermath of Idai, the IMF graciously gave Mozambique a loan of $118 million in a bid to assist the rebuild of what had been lost in the carnage. A commendable gesture of goodwill to be sure, but there is an aspect of this show of goodwill that is worrying. While the loan given is interest-free (thank God), it still saddles Mozambique with the Sisyphian task of repaying a loan that they didn’t plan on asking for in the first place.
A more sustainable path here might be to actively engage developing countries in the climate change readiness discussion; or to make them partners in policy development and implementation, and programs geared towards preparations for a future better adapted to a changing environment. For instance, if the money provided by the IMF had been made available before now for investment in green tech in Mozambique, then the country could have already prioritized sustainability, and perhaps would have been better prepared for hurricane Idai.
Organisations such as Adaptation Fund are already employing this method but most of the funds providing still come with strings attached. While I would not claim to be an economic expert, it is important that the organisations continue to remember a crucial factor; these countries are the least responsible for climate change and the consequences of which they now suffer. Taking this into considering would ensure that any assistance given to these poorer nations is timelier, preventive (rather than mitigative) and more humane.
The sooner we encourage the nations directly bearing the brunt of the mess created by the richer nations to prepare for climate change, the better for humanity.
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Title image of El Nido island in Palawan in the Philippines. Credit: Unsplash.