Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 6, 2022, and has been updated to include information about South Africa's extreme flooding, and Madagascar's Cyclone Cheneso.

Southern Africa is not prepared for the climate crisis that is already hitting it hard, and the cracks have become even more visible in recent years; with Cyclones Idai and Kenneth impacting Mozambique in 2019, and Cyclones Ana, Gombe, Emnati, and Batsirai tearing their way through southern Africa in 2022. Now, just weeks into 2023, the climate change-related storms aren't releasing their hold on southern Africa. 

Tropical Cyclone Cheneso hit Madagascar hard on Jan. 19, and so far 30 people have lost their lives, over 700 homes have been destroyed, 37,000 people have been displaced, and at least 21 people are missing. Storms and flooding in the region are predicted to increase throughout the first few months of 2023. 

In South Africa the impact of intense flooding in April 2022 is still being felt — hundreds of people went missing or lost their in the chaos — and heavy rains continued to impact east coast provinces weeks after floods washed away homes, roads, and businesses. In Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar, hundreds of lives have been lost to the collective natural disasters, homes and infrastructure have been destroyed, and thousands of citizens have been forced to seek refuge. 

The impact of these natural disasters is a reflection of how, even though Africa contributes the least to the climate crisis, it is already being dealt its biggest blows. 

4 Things to Know About Southern Africa’s Environmental Crisis

  1. 2023 has started with Cyclone Chenoso in Madagascar, that has swept away 700 homes and left 37,000 people displaced. 
  2. Four powerful storms hit Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar back-to-back over three months at the beginning of 2022. 
  3. Heavy rains resulted in intense flooding in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, killing over 400 people in April 2022.
  4. The region's largest cyclone in 2022, Gombe, impacted the lives of at least 736,000 people in Mozambique alone. 

What Impact Is This Having on People’s Lives?

The damaging weather has uprooted citizens from their homes, forcing them to flee their livelihoods and seek refuge elsewhere. The storms have impacted access to food, health care, and education for people in affected areas.

Amid South Africa's flooding, officials predicted that damage to infrastructure would cost the province an estimated R757 million (over $500 million), with roads, schools, health facilities, and businesses impacted by the extreme weather.

This wasn't the first time the KwaZulu-Natal region has experienced disastrous flooding. In 2017 the same region was hit with flooding that washed away roughly 1,000 homes, and then again in 2019, intense flooding caused landslides that displaced hundreds of people.

In the case of Mozambique and its neighbouring countries in the south-east region of Africa, they had not fully recovered from a dangerous storm season that hit in 2019, when Cyclones Idai and Kenneth ravaged the nations. While those storms hit Mozambique the hardest, the impact was felt across countries in the region, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 people collectively, as well as the destruction of thousands of homes, businesses, and important infrastructure and facilities. 

Mozambique is seemingly in a cycle of experiencing these damaging storms year after year, as not long after Idai and Kenneth, the country was hit by Cyclone Eloise in 2021, impacting at least 176,000 people and increasing climate migration and the need for humanitarian aid on the ground.

In the case of Madagascar, the World Food Programme had already warned in 2021 that southern Madagascar was on the brink of experiencing the world’s first ever climate change-related famine. While aid workers on the ground pointed out that there are many factors that contribute to this potential status — including the underdevelopment of certain regions — climate change is mostly to blame having impacted the predictability of the rainy seasons, and strengthened storms to be damaging to food sources. 

As the climate crisis worsens, affected southern African countries are barely able to get on their feet again before another natural disaster hits. 

The situation across southern Africa is in need of significant funding. The global need for humanitarian aid has massively increased due to the pandemic, climate change, and ongoing conflicts. Meaning that resources to support all citizens in need across the African continent are scarce. Humanitarian aid organisations need funding support to be able to tend to the needs of all people in crisis, such as those in southern Africa.

Although the United Nations (UN), USAID, the European Commission, and other agencies, scaled up their support for Mozambique, Madagascar, and Malawi following Cyclone Gombe, experts said at the time it wouldn't be enough to sustain a full recovery. Citizens and the countries as a whole need sustainable humanitarian support. Even before the storms, two of the three nations were areas of concern for the UN, with Mozambique and Madagascar being highlighted as regions whose humanitarian crises require significant funding support for 2022. 

How Does This Relate to the Mission to End Extreme Poverty? 

Southern African countries have been experiencing the worst of climate change, either being hit by dangerous storms, or experiencing catastrophic droughts that impact food security. This is a direct wake up call for nations to work to achieve the UN’s Global Goal 13, which calls for immediate action on the climate crisis. 

With access to food limited for those impacted by natural disaster and unpredictable weather affecting agriculture in some regions, climate change’s impact on southern Africa is also pushing back hard at efforts to achieve the UN’s Global Goal 2 for the end to hunger. 

As serious natural disasters damage infrastructure and facilities, they also affect access to education which falls under Global Goal 4, access to quality health care under Global Goal 3, as well as Goal 8 for decent work and economic growth, as affected businesses are forced to shut down or start from the ground up. 

Take Action with Global Citizen

You can take action with us by learning more about how the climate crisis is affecting the African continent as a whole. Sign up to be a Global Citizen, either on our website or by downloading the Global Citizen app, and take this quiz action to understand more about the situation. 

Global Citizen Explains

Defend the Planet

Southern Africa’s Storm Seasons: How the Region Isn’t Prepared to Fight Climate Change

By Khanyi Mlaba