After the cyclones: African cities rally for resilience


Isabel Njihia

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Africa
Participants at a workshop organised by UNDRR and ICLEI for cyclone affected cities in Africa
Participants at a workshop organised by UNDRR and ICLEI for cyclone affected cities in southern Africa

NAIROBI, 17 February, 2020 - Six cyclone-affected cities in southern Africa are joining together to develop the so-called Fortitude Initiative to build their resilience to the climate emergency following last year’s catastrophic South-West Indian Ocean cyclone season.

Representatives from the cyclone affected cities of Beira and Pemba, Mozambique; Blantyre and Zomba, Malawi: and Mutare and Chipinge, Zimbabwe, convened for the first time in December to discuss lessons learned from their experience of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth

The region was first hit in March by Cyclone Idai which left more than 1,300 people dead and many more missing. Idai brought strong winds and flooding which affected an estimated three million people.

The brunt of the storm was felt by Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Madagascar with estimated economic losses of US$2.2 billion, making it the one of the costliest storms ever to hit Africa.

Infrastructure damage in the affected cities and towns was estimated at $1 billion including destruction of hospitals, schools, housing and industrial facilities.

Further loss of life, displacement and economic damage was inflicted the following month by Cyclone Kenneth.

All of this brought representatives of the six cities together in Cape Town in December, on the occasion of marking World Tsunami Awareness Day, to discuss their exposure and vulnerability to disasters with a particular focus on reducing damage to critical infrastructure, target (d) of the Sendai Framework, the global plan to reduce disaster losses.

By the year 2030, an estimated 50 per cent of the world's population will live in coastal areas exposed to flooding, storms and tsunamis as sea-levels continue to rise.

UNDRR Regional Office for Africa and ICLEI Africa co-organized the two-day workshop “Building Resilience at the Local Level” in Cape Town, South Africa on 11 – 12 December 2019.

The developing Fortitude Initiative seeks to build climate resilience at the local level by supporting towns, cities, municipalities and regions to strengthen their disaster risk reduction strategies and action plans with a view to meeting the 2020 deadline for having such strategies in placed as agreed in a key target of the Sendai Framework.

Wild Ndipo, the Mayor of Blantyre said: “Disaster risk management is everyone’s business. We must ensure inclusivity as we build community resilience across the five dimensions of social, physical, natural, economical and institutional capacities. As the president of the Malawi Local Government Association I will strongly advocate to my colleagues to engage in resilience efforts.”

Sharing the experience of Cape Town, the Director of Resilience Corporate Services, Gareth Morgan, emphasized the importance of coordination for disaster risk reduction.

Reflecting on the recent drought or the Day Zero crisis, in the city, he said, “The fact that everyone in the city understood the gravity of the drought crisis influenced behavioral change around water consumption, which was so efficient that there was no need to ration the water supply.”

Mr. Morgan added: “I fear that the lessons learned from the Day Zero crisis may be forgotten, and this pushes us to ensure that the actions called for in the Resilience Strategy for the City of Cape Town are planned for and realized.”

The city of Cape Town is one of the role model cities of the Making Cities Resilient Campaign as a result of the city’s Informal Settlement Upgrading and Ecosystem Protection.

The participants appreciated the peer learning aspect of the workshop and called for more such opportunities to share good practices, knowledge and experience.

The Mayor of Mutare, Zimbabwe, Councilor Blessing Tandi emphasized the sense of urgency in building the resilience of communities in the region.

While signing up to the Making Cities Resilient Campaign, he said: “We must act now rather than later, for resilience. I will take the lessons learnt at this meeting to my fellow mayors back home. I appeal to our partners UNDRR and ICLEI to extend their support to us as we pursue resilience building efforts in our cities.”

The city of Mutare joins the over 4,000 cities participating in the global campaign to date.

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