Disaster prevention project in Buzi, Mozambique
Disaster prevention saves lives -
Review of a foundation´s project
Flood-warning project in the Búzi district
The role of local committees in disaster situations
The CARE study examined the behaviour and measures of the committees before and during the cyclone as well as throughout the subsequent catastrophic floods. The results confirm their remarkable relevance and effectiveness:
Local committees played a crucial role before, during and after the disaster. Even before the arrival of Cyclone Idai, they spread the warning within a few hours with megaphones and whistles in their communities and helped particularly vulnerable people to reach the few safe places. When the cyclone had swept across the region, leaving a landscape of devastation behind, they provided rescue and first aid measures. The necessary equipment had been supplied as part of the disaster risk prevention project. They also took care of the people gathering in temporary shelters by providing and distributing water and food until external help arrived. In some villages, the aid transports only arrived two weeks after the cyclone. Many community members attribute their survival to the work of the committees. An elderly woman in the village of Chicumba says: "Without the committee I would not exist anymore. I am a widow and my grown children live far away. Members of the committee have picked me up by boat from the roof of my hut and brought me to a house that was not submerged in water. Over there, they had organised everything as best they could in this situation. It was so cramped that there was hardly any place to sleep. But the members of the committee ensured peace and order and took care of us".
A look back - where were the problems and hurdles?
What were the causes then of the serious damage and numerous deaths that the cyclone had left behind despite the remarkable work of the committees? All in all, there were many deaths in Mozambique despite the early warning. The figures range from 600 to over 1,000 victims, and the fate of many missing persons has not yet been clarified. In the port city of Beira alone, tens of thousands of houses were destroyed. Many factors were probably involved, some of the most important are:
- Warnings about the storm and the subsequent floodings were given to the people on the "last mile" late and improperly. The time to switch from routine operation to a state of emergency was generally too short. Warnings were written too general and the content was sometimes incomprehensible. An example: "Wind speeds of 220 km/h" was not explained, remaining an abstract quantity for many people.
- Warnings were often not linked to concretely implementable instructions for action.
- As with many other disasters, there was warning-related misconduct. "Stay at home to be safe" kept people from leaving their homes in time and seeking protection in safer places. Tragically, the force of the cyclone and the extent of the subsequent flooding were underestimated. Many local dwellings did not survive.
- Also the technical system for automatically recording rainfall and water levels was simply overwhelmed by the force of the events.
A look ahead - how can improved disaster protection be achieved?
Against this backdrop, what needs to be done to improve the early warning system and prevent disastrous consequences like those following Cyclone Idai? While the disaster risk management system had proved to be effective and helpful at the level of the local committees, the problems were at a higher level: coordination and cooperation between key organisations must become more efficient so that the transmission of warnings and alert levels can take place without delays and breaks.
The CARE study recommends remedial action, particularly in the above-mentioned areas of administration. At the same time, there is an urgent need to develop further contingency plans with key local actors and to establish more evacuation sites in high risk areas.
Statistically speaking, a cyclone of the strength of Idai should occur on average only once in 100 years. In light of climate change, however, we must assume that storm and flood events like Idai will not remain exceptions. Only a few weeks after Idai, a second massive cyclone named Kenneth reached the mainland and again caused enormous damage in northern Mozambique. The government spoke of damages amounting to 3.2 billion euros caused by the two cyclones.
It is high time to orient practical and political planning more on scientific findings and to work out solutions together with the people at risk – just in accordance with the Munich Re Foundation's motto: from knowledge to action.
Dr. Hanna Schmuck
Hanna Schmuck has carried out the study for the aid organisation CARE. has 20 years of experience on disaster risk management and climate change adaptation with different organisations (Red Cross, NGOs, GIZ, DFID, UN etc.).
Since 2009, she is working as a free-lance consultant and researcher, specialised on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in high-risk countries in Africa and Asia.
More about Hanna Schmuck can be read on her LinkedIn profile.