Tropical Storm Ana has ripped its way through three southern African countries, causing devastation in its wake and resulting in the deaths of an estimated 77 people, with tens of thousands more people hit by its effects. 

While the full extent of the damage is still being assessed by rescue workers and authorities across Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi — where the storm has been focused — the United Nations confirmed that tens of thousands of homes in the three countries have been destroyed, and an estimated 21,000 people have been impacted by the disaster. 

Ana has also reportedly made its way to Zimbabwe, and there have been warnings of heavy rains related to the storm approaching South Africa’s East Coast. 

The storm, which landed in Madagascar on Monday, has highlighted just how unprotected Southern African countries are to the impacts of climate change, with environmental and humanitarian agencies noting that the most vulnerable populations have been the most impacted by the storm. 

The United Nations’ Children's Fund (Unicef) illustrated this exact point in a statement released on Wednesday. 

“The situation in some locations remains dire for children and families on the ground, with rains still coming, and water levels rising,” the statement reads. “The tropical storm sheds a light again on the risks and consequences of climate emergencies in the region, as well as the need for immediate humanitarian assistance from the onset — including in the most remote areas where access is difficult.”

Ana comes as the same three countries are still in recovery from the impacts of 2019’s Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people collectively, as well as the destruction of thousands of homes, businesses, and important infrastructure and facilities. 

Speaking to the Daily Maverick, Landry Ninteretse, regional director at environmental organisation, emphasised that Malawi, Madagascar, and Mozambique are dealing with the effects of a climate crisis actually caused by wealthier countries’ actions. Not to mention, just last year the World Food Programme warned that southern Madagascar was on the brink of experiencing the world’s first ever climate change-related famine.

“Disasters such as these are further evidence of the injustice suffered by the nations that contribute least to the climate crisis, as they bear the brunt of the crisis, by way of worsening climate impacts,” she said.

“Not only should this be a wake-up call for the biggest polluters to commit to plans to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions by moving away from fossil fuels, but also for the developed world to make good on its promise of climate finance to help vulnerable nations deal with the impacts of the climate crisis,” she added. 

The storm is still ongoing and according to AFP news agency, Ana has led to 130,000 people fleeing their homes, and schools and gyms in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, have been turned into emergency shelters. Malawi has declared a state of natural disaster, and parts of the country’s national electricity grid have been destroyed.

According to AFP, up to six tropical storms are expected to hit the Southern Africa region before the rainy season ends in March. 

Currently the UN is very concerned by the high levels of vulnerability in the area, with UN Resident Coordinator in Mozambique Myrta Kaulard saying of the situation on the ground: “The challenge is titanic, the challenge is extreme.”

“Mozambique is responding to a complex crisis in the north which has caused an additional enormous strain on the budget of the country, on the population,” Kaulard said, referring to the ongoing conflict in the region. “In addition there is also COVID-19.”

The storm’s movements are being monitored but the UN released a statement suggesting that things are likely to get worse, stating that it “might evolve into a severe tropical storm in the next few days.”


Defend the Planet

Tropical Storm Ana Puts Spotlight on Southern Africa’s Climate Vulnerability

By Khanyi Mlaba