Mozambique: Freddy Is The New Normal, And Mozambique And Malawi Must Prepare – At High Cost

Scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on 21 March delivered a final warning: global temperatures are now 1.1º above pre-industrial levels and the change to climate is already clear and damaging. To keep below 1.5º to prevent catastrophic damage requires massive emission cuts, which now seem unlikely. The Economist (8 Nov 2022) has already accepted that we are going to 2ºC, which is also the planning number that fossil fuel companies are using.

The damage 2ºC will do to Mozambique is hard to contemplate, but this year has shown us what 1.1ºC does. The new normal is super cyclones plus the combination of rainbombs, and drought – which all seem linked to the rising temperature of the water in the Mozambique Channel.

Cyclones: Freddy was the third of a new type of cyclone, following Cyclone Delfina, New Year’s eve 31 December 2002 and Cyclone Gombe on 12 February 2021. Until these three, this pattern had never happened before. All three crossed the Mozambique Channel from Madagascar and went inland into Mozambique, turned around, went back across to Madagascar, turned around again and headed toward Mozambique. But they slowed down picking up more water and energy, finally hitting Mozambique with a powerful punch of torrential rains and high winds.

The other new normal is much more irregular rainfall patterns. First is “rainbombs” – very heavy rain from tropical storms picking up water from the Mozambique Channel, and dropping an incredible 300 mm of rain in a single day. The flooding in Maputo province and city was due to a rainbomb on the Mozambique-Eswatini-South Africa border area on 9-10 February. These are the new normal, but infrastructure is not designed to handle 300 mm of rain in a day. Dams, rivers, bridges, culverts under roads, and drains simply cannot take that much water in a day, and flooding is inevitable. By the time Freddy got to Malawi on 14 March it was only a tropical storm, but it had so much water from dawdling over the Mozambique Channel that it was a rainbomb over Blantyre. Not only were roads and drains unable to cope, but houses were built on hillsides that resisted all “normal” rain simply washed away with the mud and occupants.

The final piece of the triangle is drought. Total rainfall does not change much, but if a lot falls as rainbombs then there are periods with no rain – drought. Malawi is short of food already because it had drought in some maize zones.

Mozambique and its neighbours need billions of dollars to just to adapt to 1.1º – the new normal. Everything around us needs to be adapted, strengthened, able to handle more rain and wind. Agriculture will need to survive irregular rain and wind. Money from the gas in the next decade will not even pay part of that cost, and in a decade when we have passed 1.5º more billions will be needed.