Withstand the climate


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Global warming continues to aggravate inequality in the world, highlighting the situation of climate injustice in the poorest regions. Even though main countries are responsible for climate change, developing countries are the most exposed to suffer its consequences, both for their location in the most vulnerable areas of the planet, and for their limited ability to recover after a natural disaster.

Seven months after Cyclone Idai, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Mozambique and the entire southern hemisphere, thousands of people continue to suffer the ravages caused by the catastrophe. In the city of Beira, on the central coast of the country, many families continue to live in makeshift shacks or under plastic tarps. The most disadvantaged houses, sometimes built with mud, sticks and stones, suffered the worst part when Idai hit the region on March 14th, 2019. During the following months, the consequences of the cyclone also left them the worst part: Try to rebuild their lives from a home turned into a pile of rubble.


1. Melita João with her daughter and her two grandchildren in front of the debris of her old house. Behind them, the makeshift shack in which they currently live. 2. Inés Paulino and her youngest son Orlando Felizardo inside the shack they built with sticks and sheets after losing their home because of the cyclone.

START OVER

Inés Paulino lives in Inhamizua neighborhood, on the outskirts of Beira. Two years after getting married she became a widow in charge of her first child and pregnant of the second. Life went uphill for her but she managed to get by working hard as a maid. At this time, with 42 years and after a difficult life, the cyclone has returned her to square one.

“When the wind took away the roof sheets and only the walls remained, the rain began to melt them. We ran without stopping to pick up anything and took refuge in an abandoned house. We spent there two weeks until the rainy days ended and we could start digging through the rubble trying to recover something.” Roof sheets where among the few things they managed to rescue. Even damaged, now are used to shape the shack of just four square meters where she and her two sons live since then. Little by little, Inés is trying to gather bricks until she has enough to build her new home.

Similar stories are repeated among the most deprived neighborhoods of Beira. In La Manga district, Luis Filipe remembers with anguish the day of the cyclone. That night he could not leave work and return home due to the state of the roads. He also failed to communicate with his family since the wind collapsed the telecommunications antennas. He spent the worst hours of the cyclone without sleep, praying for his wife and five children. “The situation became complicated, but at dawn I managed to leave the city center and return home. I arrived around 3pm and found everything devastated; There was nothing left. At that moment I broke down.” Fortunately, Luis' family managed to escape and shelter at a neighbor’s house.

During the following days they lived with others refugees in the parish. When the rain stopped, Luis returned home to try to rebuild it with the retrieved materials. His ingenuity was enough to build a small tin house with the appearance of a tent. He ensures that when it rains they can't sleep because of noise and leaks. But for now, they have no alternative.

Luis Filipe inside the shack he built with the roof plates he managed to retrieve from his old house.

OUT OF FOCUS

More than half a year after the catastrophe, now far from the media focus, the inhabitants have the feeling of being abandoned to their fate. The population feels forgotten and devoid of any help given the inability to rebuild their lives by their own means.

Most recognize the efforts of authorities and organizations to distribute basic products during the first weeks after the cyclone. However, they agree that they were distributed in a disorganized manner generating confusion among the inhabitants who had not previously experienced an emergency situation of this magnitude.

“We heard promises from some organizations that were going to give us shelter and help us rebuild our home. But instead of hope they have only brought more sadness. Only unfulfilled promises to this day.” Says Filipe.

On the other side of the city, a few meters from the sea, lives Cidone Encarnado, 36 years old. He moved to Beira 4 years ago to work in the fishing industry and thus support his family who stayed in the interior of the country. Half a year after losing his house submerged underwater, he points out the institutional inability to respond to the population in a situation of such magnitude. “I was enrolled up to three times, but since I don't live here with my wife and children, I haven't received anything yet. Not even a blanket. Nothing.” Meanwhile he lives in a shed made with reeds he has built with a friend.

1. Luis Filipe with his wife and four children in front of the shack where they live since the passage of the cyclone. On the left, his old house debris. 2. Cidone Encarnado in front of the shed he built with reeds and other materials found on the beach.

Weeks after the cyclone, stagnant water and lack of sanitation resulted in outbreaks of cholera and malaria. The hospitals, practically destroyed, were unable to provide care for the sick. Margarida Quessar (40) says that after losing her home she also lost her job in a laundry after going through three weeks of fever. “When I recovered and wanted to return to work, they had already looked for another.”

Margarida has no one to turn to. Shortly before the cyclone she lost her parents and her children's father also died. Now without a home and a job, pays $1,500 a month, about €20, for a rental room. “The conditions here are frankly bad, we have no bathroom or kitchen. But I can't pay anything better.”

In the case of Sara's family, her house was totally destroyed by the onslaught of the cyclone. After flying the roof, the walls began to give way. “We hold on a little more, until one of the walls fell and a sheet cut me. Then we went to take refuge in the mosque and stayed there until the storm passed. Upon returning, there was nothing left. The whole house collapsed.” Since then, they all live crowded in her brother's house. “So many people. Some sleep in the kitchen, others under the table. I pray to have a house again.”


1. Margarida Quessar with her children Anabela and Carjo inside the rented room in which they currently live. 2.  The old house of Margarida Quessar. 3. Sara and her family in front of the debris of her old house.

CLIMATE VICTIMS

90% of Beira was destroyed after the cyclone. But in addition to the material damages, Idai also left serious consequences that continue in the memory of its inhabitants.

Issaji Bernardo (34) returned to Beira after 12 years away working as a railroader. He then began to restore the house he inherited from his parents in Chigussura to settle with his wife and three children. The days before the storm he reinforced the roof and covered the windows following the authority’s recommendations. "I think that saved us." The surrounding houses, old and precariously built, failed to withstand the onslaught, as happened in the case of his aunt, who lived directly opposite. “I knocked on her door several times, but I thought she was not at home. I thought she might have gone to shelter at my other aunt's house. When the cyclone passed and I was able to go there again, it was when I found her lifeless under the debris. (...) At that time we needed to transport the body to the morgue, but it was impossible because the streets were flooded and full of fallen trees. We carried the body between several until we find a clear road and we could continue by car.”

Testimonies such as Issaji's are repeated throughout the city. In some cases the lack of prudence was decisive. “We prayed for the cyclone to deviate and not pass through Beira. We were optimistic.” When Idai reached the coast and many people began to take it seriously, it was too late to improvise. The stress of the situation also caused fatal situations. Aquenita João's mother lost her life during the most critical hours of the cyclone due to a heart attack.

But in most cases it was the fragility of the constructions before the violence of the wind and the rain that claimed a greater number of victims. During the following days the incessant rain overflowed the Pungué and Buzi rivers, reaching 6 meters in its mouth and flooded entire communities by dragging corpses towards the sea and trapping thousands of people who remained on the roof waiting to be rescued.


1. Issaji Bernardo and his family next to the rubble of his aunt's house where she died on the day of the cyclone. 2. Aquenita João (center) with her family inside her house, where her mother died on the day of the cyclone.

RIGHTEOUS FOR SINNERS

The authorities reported an official figure of at least 603 deaths and 1400 injured from the cyclone. Africa is the worst prepared continent to face such a humanitarian crisis and at the same time it is the most prone to suffer climate-related natural disasters, such as cyclones, droughts and floods. This bad combination predicts new and worse catastrophes as global warming progresses.

The predictions have already come true. Just one month after Idai, Cyclone Kenneth reached the northern part of the country, giving rise to two tropical storms in the same season for the first time in Mozambique's history. The United Nations have estimated a cost of $386 million to repair the damage caused by the two consecutive cyclones. Official figures consider that about 100,000 homes were totally or partially destroyed.

This is not humanitarian response anymore, but climate justice. Mozambique, with one of the lowest human development index in the world and hardly any industry, has a minimal contribution to global warming. However, the consequences of climate change have strongly punished its inhabitants, forcing them to start over.

Emilia Elisabeth and her niece Catalina Fernando next to the tree collapsed by the cyclone that destroyed her home in the Munhava district.