Fallout from a devastating tropical storm that hit several countries in southern Africa is building as the death count continues to rise and communities struggle to recover. The death toll from Tropical Storm Ana, which blew through Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi last week, stood at nearly 80 on Monday, while hundreds of thousands of people across the three countries have been affected by floods, power outages, and heavy rains. To make matters worse, another storm system is currently brewing off the coast of Mauritius that could make landfall this week.
“The tropical storm sheds a light again on the risks and consequences of climate emergencies in the region,” the United Nation’s agency for children, UNICEF, said in a release on Thursday.
Tropical Storm Ana Started Brewing Last Week
Ana started forming January 20 in the southwest Indian Ocean and made landfall over Madagascar two days later after intensifying over the ocean. It then warmed over the Madagascar Channel, the body of water between the island nation and the coast of Mozambique. The storm made landfall in Mozambique on January 24 and scraped across the southwest tip of Malawi as it continued its journey westward.
Widespread Destruction and Flooding
The heavy rains and flooding have caused widespread damage across the three countries, destroying homes and schools, sweeping away crops, taking out roads and bridges, collapsing power lines, and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
Unfortunately, storms are becoming all too common in this particular portion of southern Africa. Ana hit regions that were all also affected by cyclones Idai and Kenneth, two back-to-back storms that devastated the area in 2019 after hitting within six weeks of each other.
Climate Change Juices Up Storms
Around the world, climate change is amplifying storms like Ana. Warmer ocean water and air temperatures help to strengthen hurricanes and tropical cyclones, making them even more powerful when they make landfall. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last year found that the increasing severity of storms since the 1970s are likely tied to climate change, while multiple regions of the world, including most of Africa, will likely see heavier rainstorms as the planet continues to warm. The Indian Ocean, where Ana formed, is warming faster than the global average: studies show average surface temperature increased a whopping 1 degree Celsius between 1950 and 2015.
Another Storm is Coming
The region may be in for more rough weather soon. Authorities have expressed concern about a low-pressure system named Batsirai that started forming over the Indian Ocean last week. As of Monday, Batsirai had already intensified into a tropical storm, and it’s expected to get stronger as it moves towards the coast of Madagascar. Up to six tropical storms have been projected to hit the region before the end of the rainy season in March.
Thousands of People Homeless in Madagascar
Of the three countries impacted by the storm, Madagascar, the first country hit by Ana, has experienced some of the most widespread impacts. As of Friday, Madagascar’s death toll stands at 48 people, while some 130,000 evacuated; authorities say that around 72,000 people may have lost their homes during strong winds and flooding. The flooding also hit farmland as well as 400 schools, 55 of which were destroyed, Madagascar’s interior ministry said.
Berthine Razafiarisoa took his family of 10 to take cover from the storm in a gym in Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo. “We only brought our most important possessions,” he told AFP.
Madagascar Already Facing Disaster
Madagascar is also in the midst of a devastating famine triggered by extreme drought that has dragged on for six years — the worst drought the country has seen in decades. This summer, more than 1 million people in the country faced famine conditions, while nearly 14,000 people saw famine conditions serious enough to categorise as a humanitarian catastrophe. This latest catastrophe, combined with the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, only serves to further destabilize the situation in the country.
Region Exposed to ‘So Many Climate Havocs’
Across the Madagascar Channel, things aren’t much better. The death toll in Mozambique stood at at least 21 on Monday, with at least 207 injuries; more than 7,300 homes were totally destroyed by Ana. In Malawi, where 10 people have died and 107 have been injured, the government declared a state of emergency as a result of the storm.
“This country, Mozambique, is really exposed so, so much to climate havocs that we absolutely need to do much, much, more for disaster risk reduction,” Myrtha Kaulard, UN Resident Coordinator in Mozambique, told the UN’s news agency.