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23 March 2020
Southern Africa has made progress in resilience-building in recent years, and global insurer Zurich says more attention needs to be paid to pre-event planning to further strengthen the region against natural hazard events.
Deadly storms that hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe a year ago revealed a lack of understanding about how to prepare for such events.
“While the storms’ expected landfall locations and windspeeds were accurately forecast and agencies were put on high alert, communities’ understanding of how wind and rain would impact them was practically non-existent,” said Michael Szönyi, the head of Zurich’s Flood Resilience Program.
He says Zurich’s “holistic approach” includes tangible ways to mitigate risk prior to an event turning into a disaster. This is vital in areas where natural hazard events may not cause huge monetary losses but can rapidly turn into humanitarian and societal disasters.
A study conducted by Zurich and its flood alliance members after Cyclone Idai struck in March last year examined issues around housing and infrastructure, as well as the critical need for forecasting and early warning systems.
Cyclone Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones to affect southern Africa. Over 17 days it caused catastrophic damage and a humanitarian crisis in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving more than 1,300 people dead and many more missing.
A few weeks later Cyclone Kenneth arrived with winds that made it the strongest storm ever to hit the region.
The area was vulnerable despite progress made over the last decade in disaster risk reduction, Zurich said.
Mr Szönyi says the alliance has recommended susceptible countries prepare with adequate materials, knowledge, skills and funding to ensure the resilience of key infrastructure. The value of storm-resistant housing in the region was also highlighted.
“Prioritising and funding resilience-building and disaster risk reduction efforts should be an integral part of a humanitarian response and any development programming that follows,” Mr Szönyi said. “It is also a critical step for climate change adaptation in a region suffering from increasing droughts, floods and tropical storms.”
As climate change creates new hazards and intensifies existing hazards, proactive and collaborative efforts are needed across all levels from the local to national level and between communities, districts, provinces and countries to build resilience, the study says.