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record storm wreaks havoc in southern Africa



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Before this weekend, Hurricane Freddy was already Earth’s longest tropical storm. As Freddy made landfall in central Mozambique on Sunday for the second time in a matter of weeks, battering parts of southern Africa with heavy rains and strong winds, he may have also boosted his status. of one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever observed in the southern hemisphere.

This is the growing assessment of the global meteorological community, as reported by my colleague Matthew Cappucci. Freddy emerged around February 6 off the coasts of Indonesia and Western Australia, transited thousands of miles west across the Indian Ocean before hitting the island of Madagascar on February 19 , then making landfall in Mozambique on February 24, where it flooded towns, devastated crops and plunged communities into darkness. It looped back through the Mozambique Channel and regained energy in its warm waters before returning to the African continent.

Freddy’s longevity seems to match his relentlessness. “The amount of energy a storm passes through is calculated using a metric known as ACE, or Accumulated Cyclone Energy,” Cappucci explained. “It reflects both the intensity and duration of a storm. Storms harvest this energy from warm ocean waters and expend it through their winds and by generating precipitation.

He added: “As of Saturday night, Freddy had scored somewhere in the neighborhood of 86 ACE units, surpassing the record of 85.26 set by Hurricane and Typhoon Ioke from August to September 2006. That’s more ACE than 100 of the last 172 Atlantic hurricane seasons – not individual storms, but entire ones seasons‘ with an ACE value.

Cyclone Freddy hit central Mozambique on March 12 after making landfall for the second time in a month. (Video: Reuters)

Hitting Mozambique, Freddy became Earth’s most energetic cyclone on record

This ferocity had a sinister human impact. The death toll is unclear, given difficulties local authorities faced in reaching storm-hit areas, but dozens of people died in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi due to the impact of the storm. Freddie. The commissioner of the Department for Disaster Management Affairs, Charles Kalemba, said on Monday that 99 people had been killed in Malawi. The Red Cross said the deaths were largely due to flash floods, landslides and the collapse of flimsy mud houses. UN officials have so far counted at least 27 deaths in Mozambique and Madagascar, with at least 8,000 people displaced and nearly 2 million people affected in Mozambique alone.

Local authorities expect the numbers to rise in the coming days. In Mozambique’s Zambezia province, the storm destroyed critical telecommunications infrastructure, hampering relief and aid efforts. Mozambique experienced a year of rainfall in the space of weeks as Freddy swirled between the African continent and Madagascar, raising the risk of a worsening cholera outbreak in the region.

“Malawi is experiencing the deadliest cholera epidemic in its history. The country is also struggling to respond to an ongoing polio outbreak and Covid-19 cases across the country,” said Rudolf Schwenk, the country representative of the UN children’s agency, during the meeting. a press briefing last week. “Resources are limited, the health system is overburdened and health workers are pushed to their limits.”

In a statement on Monday, the UN humanitarian office warned that humanitarian organizations “urgently need additional resources to respond to emergencies”. Yet the destruction wrought by the cyclone is not on the scale seen in, say, 2019 when Cyclone Idai killed more than 1,500 people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

“Freddy has a major socio-economic and humanitarian impact on affected communities,” Johan Stander of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization said in a statement last week. “The death toll has been limited by accurate forecasts and early warnings, as well as coordinated disaster risk reduction action on the ground – although one casualty is one too many.”

How climate change is rapidly fueling super hurricanes

Still, the ravages of cyclones like Freddy are expected to become more common. Scientists believe that climate change is likely to increase the intensity of tropical storms as warmer ocean temperatures fuel wetter, windier and more destructive weather. Low-lying countries like Mozambique are among the most vulnerable to climate change and the least equipped to deal with its effects.

Climate activists have long pointed to its plight as an example of a nation whose people have played little part in global warming, but who are reaping the disproportionate consequences of humanity’s rising emissions. At last year’s major UN climate summit in Egypt, some wealthy Western countries pledged tens of millions of dollars in funding to Mozambique to help deal with loss and damage from extreme weather events. , though campaigners say those contributions don’t go far enough. .

During a session of the UN Security Council last month on the security risks posed by rising sea levels, Secretary-General António Guterres warned of “a mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale” as flooding and coastal erosion uproot entire communities.

Mozambique’s Foreign Minister, Verónica Nataniel Macamo Dlhovo, pointed to the fact that her country suffered five tropical storms or cyclones in the past year alone as proof of the worst to come. She warned that coastal cities across Africa – from Lagos, Nigeria, to Casablanca, Morocco, to her country’s capital, Maputo – were facing disaster.

“We’re talking about people who have lost almost everything they put together in their lifetime,” she said. “If no urgent action is taken to protect these cities, they could disappear in the near future.”

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