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21 February 2024

After cyclone ruin, back to square one for Mozambique's Beira

Photo: AFP


Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira on the Mozambican coast, had worked to shore up the city's climate defences, drawing on World Bank help to build deterrents against rising seas, flooding and storms.

But in just a few hours last month, Cyclone Idai devastated the city of half-a-million people, wiping out his efforts.

Packing winds twice the speed Beira was built to withstand, the superstorm swamped the city's drainage system, overwhelmed its floodgates and mocked its brand-new basin, designed to hold storm water.

Nearly 90 percent of the regionally-vital port city was damaged or destroyed.

"We have never seen this before. Our infrastructures were prepared to handle winds up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour, but this time we were subjected to winds of 240 kph," the mayor said.

Idai made landfall on March 14, ripping roofs off buildings, pulling down electricity pylons, uprooting trees, and bringing heavy rains and floods that swamped an area larger than Luxembourg.

More than 600 people died, as well as nearly 200 in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Mozambican former first lady Graca Machel, on a post-cyclone visit, declared Beira "will go down in history as having been the first city to be completely devastated by climate change."


Climate scientists hesitate to attribute a single extreme-weather event to climate change, a long-term meteorological shift.

But many would agree that Cyclone Idai is entirely consistent with scenarios about the impact on weather systems of global warming - the relentless buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted by burning coal, oil, and gas.

Warmer oceans provide more of the raw fuel on which cyclones feed, and higher sea levels boost storm surges that may overcome coastal defences.

The world's nations agreed in 2015 to cap the global rise in temperature at 2C from pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

"We can say with certainty: tropical cyclones will become more intense under global warming. And very strong tropical cyclones will become more frequent," physics professor Anders Levermann from the University of Potsdam in Germany told AFP.

'Alarm bell'

Idai "may turn out to be one of the deadliest weather-related disasters to hit the southern hemisphere," according to World Meterological Organization (WMO) executive director Petteri Taalas.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described it as "an uncommonly fierce and prolonged storm."

It sent "yet another alarm bell about the dangers of climate change, especially in vulnerable, at-risk countries".

Mozambique is no stranger to extreme weather.