CNN Updated:April 1, 2019.
“Upside down” are the only words Manush Albert Alben has to describe life after the powerful Cyclone Idai.
Nearly two weeks since the powerful cyclone destroyed most of the city of Beira, Mozambique, it is a long way from normal. “There’s no money, no groceries,” Alben, a fisherman, said while sitting in his wooden pirogue on a local beach. “We are suffering but trying to hold on.”
Known for its busy port and views of the Indian Ocean, the 19th-century city used to be the fourth largest in the country. Now Beira will go down in history as being “90% wiped out” by global warming, said Graça Machel, a former Mozambican freedom fighter, politician and deputy chair of The Elders, who spoke to CNN on the phone after visiting the city.
“This is one of the poorest places in the world, which is paying the price of climate change provoked mostly, not only but mostly, by the developed world,” the 73-year-old added.
Hundreds of square miles are covered by water, flooding an area so vast it can be seen from space. Only when the water recedes completely, says Machel, will Mozambique be able to count the bodies. Cyclone Idai is only the latest extreme weather event to blight the region, affecting more than half a million people and filling humanitarian camps with tens of thousands.
The 2015-16 El Niño weather cycle, believed to be the strongest in 50 years, severely affected Southern Africa’s food security, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Dry weather conditions in large swathes of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Madagascar led to about 32 million people being unable to afford or resources to acquire food in 2016.
By 2018, drought, population growth and climate change nearly made Cape Town the first city in the world to run out of water.
“[Cyclone Idai] is a tragic showcase of what can happen in many other similarly situated towns and cities in low and middle income countries,” Denis McClean, spokesperson for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, told CNN. “They are vulnerable and they are exposed.”
Climate change is often described as a problem that will affect future generations. But the world’s most vulnerable are already facing its devastating effects. The United Nations estimates that 4.2 billion people have been hit by weather-related disasters in the last two decades, with low-income countries suffering the biggest losses.
Many of the world’s poorest live in equatorial regions, which already have high average temperatures. This means a tiny rise can be sharply felt and lead to harsher impacts, according to a 2018 study in Geophysical Research Letter. Meanwhile, most of the world’s richest nations are the largest emission producers — by burning fossil fuels and modern farming practices that produce climate change causing emissions.
Using climate model projections, the paper found that if global average surface temperatures reached the 1.5 or 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) limit — set by the Paris Agreement — countries like Indonesia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo would feel the changes brought on by global warming more keenly than higher latitude countries like the United Kingdom.