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Expert comment: Cyclone Idai in Mozambique and Zimbabwe – University of Reading

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Expert comment: Cyclone Idai in Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Release Date 19 March 2019


More than 1,000 people are feared to have died in a cyclone which has struck the east coast of Africa.

Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique on Thursday with winds of up to 177km/h (106mph), causing widespread damage and loss of life in the area, and is being called the worst weather-related disaster to have ever hit the southern hemisphere.

Dr Liz Stephens, a hydrologist at the University of Reading, said:

“The dreadful stories of destruction and loss of life in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are unfortunately all too common after a storm of the size of Cyclone Idai. The combined effects of wind, heavy rain, landslides and the storm surge cause massive impacts to vulnerable communities and infrastructure.

“While we can never completely prevent the damage, UK scientists have been working with aid agencies to help them act when a cyclone is forecast. I and colleagues at the University of Reading have been working with scientists from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and the Mozambique Red Cross Society to provide the evidence to support early action plans for cyclones in Mozambique. For this storm, $344,000 was released to the Mozambique Red Cross to mobilise teams of local volunteers to distribute early earnings and preposition aid, meaning that communities were being supported even though the region was inaccessible by road and air.

“While this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the support that will be needed in these devastated communities, it shows that lessons are being learnt from previous disasters.

“What has changed since the devastating Mozambique floods of 2000 is that we now have a better understanding of which areas will flood, well in advance of the storm arriving. This means scientists can help aid agencies create pre-approved relief plans, which are ready to go when floods are forecast up to a week or more in advance. This allows better use of disaster relief funding and undoubtedly helps to save lives by getting help quickly to flood-ravaged communities.

“Of course, the impacts of tropical cyclones are many, which makes the situation even more complex. People can’t climb onto their roof to escape rising water if the roof has been blown off by hurricane-force winds.”

“There is much more that can be done to help keep people safe from tropical cyclones, and better use of forecasts is part of the solution.”

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