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Climate change, and Tropical Cyclone Freddy

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THOUGH cyclones are common in the south-east Africa region, Cyclone Freddy, which has been battering the area for over a month, is unprecedented and as the impacts of climate change deepen, it may not be unique; proving overwhelming for climate change action.  
Tropical cyclones form when the ocean surface reaches 26.5°Celsius.
The warmer the sea surface, the stronger the cyclone. In recent years, sea surface temperatures in the south of the Indian Ocean towards the South Pole have reached 30-32°Celsius, meaning the region where tropical cyclones form is no longer confined to the tropics.
Like the islands of Mauritius, La Reunion and Madagascar and the eastern coast of Mozambique extending into Zimbabwe, the east coast of India is vulnerable to cyclones and tidal waves.
The State of Andhra Pradesh is the most affected by cyclones and tidal waves of four major States on the east coast of India, namely: West Bengal, Grissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Andhra Pradesh State, with a long coast line that extends over 1 030 km traverses nine districts. The coast line has the distinction of being considered the most cyclone prone zone in India.
In the 97 years from 1892 to 1989, there were as many as 67 cyclones.
Annually, during the periods of April-May and September-December, cyclonic conditions set into the Bay of Bengal while every few years cyclones pass away from the Andhra coast. Latterly, however, they have been crossing the mainland more frequently. These cyclone storms are usually accompanied by tidal waves which, on occasions, enter up to 20 km inland. Heavy rains and winds with speeds exceeding 150km/h prevail during these cyclones.
Over the passing years, the intensity of the cyclones seems to be increasing; for instance, the cyclone which affected Machilipatnam, in October 1949, had wind velocities of 100km/h and tidal waves of three to five metres.
The cyclone which affected Ongole town, in 1969, recorded even higher wind speeds.  
The November 1977 cyclone which hit several districts was very severe, with the wind speed nearing 200km/h, accompanied by tidal waves of over 15m. It was considered to be the worst of the cyclones to make landfall. In May 1990, the cyclone which swept through several districts recorded wind speeds reaching 220-250km/h.
The cyclone of 1977 took such a large toll on human lives (exceeding 10 000) that the government was motivated to take long-term measures. Climate-resilient infrastructure, in the form of cyclone shelters, were constructed in all the districts along the coast. These came as great saviours of human life as the death toll since has been contained below 1 000 in spite of the greater severity of the cyclone. Unfortunately, livestock could not be protected the same way.
Every cyclone takes its toll on human and animal lives. They destroy public and private property, in the form of buildings, houses and household effects, property; infrastructure, including roads, communication networks, bridges, irrigation systems; fields and many acres of crops get damaged or destroyed with countless animal fatalities recorded. The loss of livestock in the affected areas due to the onslaught of cyclonic storms and incessant rain is considerable as large numbers of cattle, sheep goats and other domestic animals are washed away and lost.
Tropical Cyclone Freddy, after travelling over 8 000 km from northern Australia, first hit Mauritius on February 20 2023 before moving on to the coast of Madagascar. With as much energy as a full North Atlantic hurricane season, Cyclone Freddy dropped three times the monthly rainfall in less than a week.
Well on track to become the longest-lasting storm on record, Tropical Cyclone Freddy, dubbed ‘The Climate Change Storm’, made a comeback after its initial landfall in late February, and barrelled through Southern Africa for the second time within a few weeks early in March. As the core of the cyclone bypassed Zimbabwe, the outer spiral cloud bands stretched more than 750km radius across, brushing over the country, which resulted in “…cloudy, windy and mild conditions over the southern and eastern parts of the country in Matabeleland South, Masvingo, south-western parts of Midlands, Harare Metropolitan, Manicaland and all Mashonaland provinces,” according to the Meteorological Services Department in Zimbabwe.
Cyclone Freddy slammed into Mozambique on February 24, bringing with it flooding and devastation, before moving back out to sea where it picked up more energy from the warm ocean waters. On March 11, it made landfall again, with high winds bringing floods to Mozambique and Malawi resulting in havoc and devastation and cutting all communication networks.
As a result, a state of disaster was declared in Malawi with reports of destructive winds, heavy rains, landslides and flooding demolished houses, swept away roads and bridges as well as destroyed agricultural fields and livestock. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) expects food insecurity to worsen in Malawi, eroding the resilience built by their projects.
In Mozambique, small-scale farmers were harvesting their maize, and preparing for May’s rice harvest when Cyclone Freddy hit. According to the National Institute for Disaster Management, over 66 000 hectares of agricultural land was affected.  A year’s amount of rain fell in Mozambique over the month, leading to fears of more rivers bursting their banks.
In Madagascar, there were reports of damaged roads and irrigation infrastructure. Almost 2 000 households that were participating in the IFAD-supported DEFIS project in the coastal Vatovavy region were impacted when the cyclone first made landfall in late February. In some places, over 60 percent of the young rice crop was destroyed by flooding.  DEFIS has since distributed 15 tonnes of fresh seed to assist with replanting.
While examining the damage to chart the ways forward, the IFAD and partners said: “Even breadfruit trees, which have historically provided food in lean times, were reported to have been damaged in the worst-affected areas, creating food security concerns.”
Assessing the impact of Cyclone Freddy in IFAD-supported project areas in the affected countries, IFAD’s East and Southern Africa’s regional director Sara Mbago-Bhunu said: “Going forward, building resilience and embracing innovative disaster risk reduction financing instruments are critical … Poor rural people worldwide need stronger and more diversified livelihoods to cushion them against devastating shocks like this.
 They need financial instruments designed for them, like crop insurance accessible to small-scale producers. They need climate-resilient infrastructure and restored ecosystems that can protect against increasingly common extreme weather impacts. And they need all of us to pitch in and act now to meet our global commitment to limit climate change and its effects.” 
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and is a published author in her field.  For comments e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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