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Latest 'Wake-Up Call' of Climate Emergency as Historic Cyclone Hits Still Reeling Mozambique

As aid groups call for global assistance, campaigner says unfolding disaster "is a tragedy that points to the bigger crisis that humanity is faced with."

People stand on top of a broken bridge

People stand on top of a broken bridge, damaged during Cyclone Idai, across the Lucite River on March 26, 2019, outside of Magaro, Mozambique. (Photo: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

Urgent calls for international aid and climate action mounted Friday after the stongest cyclone to ever hit Mozambique made landfall just weeks after another powerful storm ravaged the impoverished African country.

"The families whose lives have been turned upside down by these climate-related disasters urgently need the generosity of the international community to survive over the coming months."
—Mark Lowcock, United Nations

"The families whose lives have been turned upside down by these climate-related disasters urgently need the generosity of the international community to survive over the coming months," Mark Lowcock, the United Nations humanitarian chief, said in a statement (pdf).

Lowcock warned that "Cyclone Kenneth may require a major new humanitarian operation at the same time that the ongoing Cyclone Idai response targeting 3 million people in three countries remains critically underfunded."

The new storm, he noted, "comes only six weeks after Cyclone Idai devastated central Mozambique, killing more than 600 people, unleashing a cholera epidemic, wiping out crops in the country's breadbasket, forcing a million people to rely on food assistance to survive, and causing massive destruction of homes, schools, and infrastructure in one of the world's poorest countries."

Last month's cyclone, as Common Dreams reported, destroyed an estimated 90 percent of Mozambique's port city of Beira before it moved on to portions of Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing hundreds more people. Cyclone Kenneth reached wind speeds equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane and reportedly killed at least three people on the island nation of Comoros before hammering northern Mozambique late Thursday.

Speaking with NPR from Beira, Katie Wilkes, a spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, described the situation on the ground in Mozambique as "unprecedented."

"Cyclone Idai was one of the worst disasters in the country's history," Wilkes said, "and now we're seeing a second disaster."

"It's really an anomaly in the history of cyclones in this region. There's never been two storms this strong hit in the same year, let alone within five weeks of each other in Mozambique," Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who has worked in east Africa and monitored this cyclone's path, told the Guardian.

The storm is expected to stall over Mozambique for several days, and projections show it could drop two feet or more of rain on the area in the coming days.

"Nothing like this has happened in this region, and rarely happens anywhere in the world," Holthaus said. "So the kind of rainfall totals that the models are showing for Kenneth are really extreme in the global context."

"We have very strong evidence that everywhere in the world, rainfall is getting more intense," he added, tying Kenneth rainfall projections to the global climate crisis.

The meteorologist took to Twitter Friday to urge the global community to "help those who did nothing to cause the problem."

Landry Ninteretse, regional team leader of 350Africa, said in a statement Friday that the unfolding disaster "is a tragedy that points to the bigger crisis that humanity is faced with."

"For us, climate change is not a future risk, it's already a reality evident in wrecked families, lands and livelihoods, and homeless children and young people who have no choice but to seek a future by migrating," Ninteretse said. "We urgently need to step up efforts in Africa to adapt to a rapidly changing environment before more harm is brought to frontline communities who face the brunt of climate impacts."

"It is time to accept as fact that climate change will only increase the severity of extreme weather events; they present themselves to us as symptoms of the existential threat of climate change," said Njeri Kabeberi, executive director of Greenpeace Africa. "This is yet another wake-up call, and we urge our leaders in Africa to act with urgency to tackle the threats of climate change and to ensure climate justice."

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