Remembering the forgotten disaster: One year after Cyclones Idai and Kenneth

April 21, 2020

A year ago, landslides, floods, and high winds from two successive cyclones – Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth – devastated communities across Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. The cyclones left millions of people in dire need of immediate humanitarian aid and longer-term support to reduce existing risk, protect lives, and build livelihoods. During the preparations for our latest post-event review, I listened to a radio program that called the devastation by Idai and Kenneth the “forgotten disaster”. 

Not forgotten by those still struggling to rebuild their lives a year later

Traditionally, in January the insurance industry looks at and publishes reports on the events from the past year and provides detailed statistics about the sustained losses. Headlines from costly events in the “developed” world, and mostly from the northern hemisphere, dominated the 2019 review, and even there, insured losses were only about one third of the total. Idai and Kenneth were a mere footnote – although in 2019 Idai alone had been by far the largest humanitarian disaster caused by a natural hazard. 

This “forgetting” is truly alarming given the extent of the devastation. A year later, millions of survivors are still facing huge recovery challenges and are in desperate need of ongoing humanitarian aid. The suffering and need is now being intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic; though we have yet to see the results, forgetting how certain countries and people are affected, eclipsed by greater economic damage elsewhere, is not acceptable. 

Learning from past successes and challenges to build a more resilient future

These calls to remember must become calls to action – calls to learn from past disasters with the goal of informing our undertakings to build resilience to future ones, whether they are caused by environmental or health hazards. Our most recent post-event review, “When the unprecedented becomes precedented: Learning from Cyclones Idai and Kenneth" aims to achieve both of these goals of “remembering” – to recognize the challenges communities impacted by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth continue to face and to help the impacted communities and society to learn from disasters and build more resilient communities. 

Our research for this report, drawn from over 100 interviews with stakeholders from government, UN agencies, donors, NGOs and humanitarian agencies, academics, and, most of all, community members, and the review of countless secondary sources shows that good progress had been made by Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in recent years, both to manage the initial response and to support early recovery. We also found that so much more can and still needs to be done to truly embed proactive disaster risk management and resilience-building in current policies, practices, and budgeting. We heard that prioritizing and funding resilience-building and disaster risk reduction efforts needs to be integrated into and sequenced with humanitarian response. Follow-on development programming must better incorporate climate change adaptation thinking and action in a region that is already suffering from increasing droughts, floods, and cyclones.

What did we learn from the Post Event Review Capability? 

In the face of changing and emerging hazards, now is the time to learn from the past to build our resilience to the future. "When the unprecedented becomes precedented: Learning from Cyclones Idai and Kenneth" will be published on Cyclone Kenneth’s anniversary on April 25, 2020. This is meant to be a stepping stone for discussion of the lessons learned and follows the release of several products already shared, including a series of topic- and audience- specific policy briefs that you can find on our partner ISET–International’s dedicated website. Taken together, we hope that these products will illuminate potential paths forward for communities, government, humanitarian agencies and donors alike to collaborate in the face of current and future challenges. The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance itself is eager to support and implement these ideas, lessons and recommendations not just in Africa but in our community programs around the world. 

 


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