From the Teeth of the Storm

We have been hearing for some time about Cyclone Freddy, which had formed in the Indian Ocean. Last week there was slightly reassuring news that by the time it came inland to Malawi it might not be too fierce. In fact, it has turned out to be worse than expected. We are now on our third day of almost ceaseless torrential rain, accompanied at times with gusts of strong wind.

Here in Zomba, schools have been closed as a precaution but so far we have not been aware of serious damage or loss of life. Much worse is the situation in the nearby city of Blantyre where rivers are overflowing, buildings are collapsing and more than 100 people have lost their lives already. We will not know the full extent of the damage and losses until the rains let up, but all the signs are that much devastation will be revealed.

Big storms are not unknown in Malawi’s history. Here in Zomba older people talk of the “napolo” (dragon) which erupted from the mountain after a big storm in 1946. You can still see some of the boulders that fell from the mountain in a great landslide. In my own time, something similar was experienced in Phalombe during the 1990s when it was hit by a great landslide from nearby Mount Mulanje.

What seems to be clear, however, is that the storms are increasing in frequency and intensity. Some people are still recovering from damage sustained when Cyclone Ana hit last year. Freddy, some meteorologists suggest, might be the most intense storm ever recorded in this part of the world. 

International discussions on climate change often seem to end up with commitments to do something by 2030 or 2050. These dates are no use to Malawi – the time for action is now. Most of those losing their lives or seeing their properties swept away have contributed very little to the causes of climate change. Justice and solidarity call for urgent action from all of us to address this crisis.

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