The recent passage of Cyclone Freddy has left a trail of destruction across Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi, affecting millions of people, causing hundreds of deaths and displacing tens of thousands of people. For three weeks Freddy has ricocheted back and forth across the Mozambique channel in an unprecedented pattern, hitting both coastlines twice. Freddy is the only known tropical cyclone to achieve six separate rapid intensification cycles, is being recognised as one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, and will likely break records for being the world’s longest-ever tropical storm.
The destruction this cyclone has wrought is a stark reminder that the climate emergency is not a future concern, but a present-day crisis that is causing huge environmental damage, exacerbating poverty and weakening food security across the region.
“When the cyclones come, we don’t go fishing. The sea rises, the houses flood, and our plates and pans are drowned by the water. We don’t have food, or any other source of income than fishing. We can’t go fishing or gleaning because the sea is too murky” said Ronga, a member of the Vezo community in Morombe, mid-west Madagascar.
Community members affected by the cyclone reported significant damage to coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass habitats. These vital ecosystems are some of the world’s most biodiverse, and crucial habitats for small-scale fishers who rely on them for food and income. The storm has also destroyed boats, equipment and infrastructure, causing huge disruptions to the fishing industry, making it almost impossible to fish. This has left coastal communities, for whom fishing is a vital source of food and income, unable to feed their families and is likely to have cascading effects on the local economy, increasing poverty and food insecurity in a region already blighted by some of the highest levels of poverty in the world.
“The cyclone was difficult for us, the Vezo people, because the sea rose and the houses on the shore were destroyed. Even getting food with the cyclone is difficult. Our feet are itchy right now because of this stagnant water. We can’t go fishing because the sea is rough.” said Severin, a fisher from the Vezo community in Morombe, mid-west Madagascar.
These impacts are not just the result of a single storm but are part of a broader pattern of climate change and extreme weather events that are happening with increasing frequency and intensity across the world. In the southwest Indian Ocean, scientists predict that cyclones won’t necessarily become more frequent, but will increase in intensity by up to 46% by 2100. The impacts of these storms, and the broader pattern of climate change threats and realities have increasingly severe implications for marine ecosystems and the communities reliant on them to eat and make a living.
Western Indian Ocean researchers recently issued stark warnings about the Mozambique channel, which is warming faster than any other ocean. They predict an impending disaster for food security, livelihoods and marine life in this area that could lead to widespread starvation by 2035.
To address these challenges, we are working closely with local partners and communities to develop and implement strategies aimed at building resilience to the effects of climate change. This includes supporting the restoration of damaged habitats, promoting sustainable fishing practices, and strengthening financial inclusion so that coastal communities can better withstand the impacts of extreme weather events.
We are also calling for greater and more urgent action at the global level to support communities in vulnerable coastal regions like Madagascar and Mozambique to address climate change using sustainable and scalable nature-based adaptation and resilience-building models that we know can work for communities. In southwest Madagascar, fishers have reported that being able to fish in the spillover zone around a community-led permanent seagrass reserve established near the village’s shore provided a fishing lifeline at the peak of the bad weather, when waters became too dangerous for local fishers mostly using small wooden boats.
“We are waiting for the sea to become clearer, but we don’t know when that will be. We have nothing to cook. We rely solely on the sea.” said Ronga.
The climate emergency is happening now, and we must ramp up support to communities living on the front lines of the climate emergency, especially those repeatedly battered by increasingly violent storms, to safeguard the health of our oceans and protect the wellbeing of coastal communities around the world.