Why regional response to disaster is preferred in Africa

Tuesday July 30 2019

Neighbours chat while sitting in a flooded street of the Paquite district of Pemba on April 29, 2019, as Cyclone Kenneth hit northern Mozambique, killing 38 and destroying thousands of home. PHOTO | EMIDIO JOZINE | AFP


As countries individually divert resources to respond to climate change disasters, experts advise that mechanisms co-ordinated by cohesive regional blocs guarantee more resilience because fragmented approaches tend to come with bigger economic and social costs.

Other disaster management experts argue that countries affected by climate change mistakenly tend to wait for support from the African Union, which is saddled with many challenges, ineffective response systems and significantly, lacking financial resources to deliver relief.

For instance, in March, the continent witnessed the AU dither to respond to the cyclone that hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing over 1,000 people, as each country individually sent out appeals for resources and emergency relief to assist the combined three million people across the three nations.

Last week, senior officials from the agriculture, environment, health and disaster management ministries of 17 Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) countries gathered in the Zambian capital Lusaka, to plot better response mechanisms and resilience in the face of increased climate change risks on the continent.

In particular, the Lusaka meeting discussed the Regional Resilience Initiative on climate change, which was launched in 2017, which aims to support member states to strengthen their policy co-ordination mechanism and discuss these can be co-opted into a regional policy.

According to the Comesa climate change co-ordinator Dr Mclay Kanyangarara, most members have a fragmented and haphazard approach to managing risks, shocks and stresses, which has proved to be ineffective as loss and damage continues to escalate.


“Furthermore, natural and economic systems are interconnected at the national and regional levels, hence impact on one affects the others,” Dr Kanyangarara adds.

Most Comesa countries face similar threats of climate change and droughts, flooding, industrial shocks, extreme rainfall and disease outbreaks, wars and civil unrest.

To attain its regional integration goals, many systems in the region such as shared water courses, energy, transport, communications and financial systems must be interconnected.

This therefore puts regional economic communities in a better position to support resilience building in their regions, argues the Comesa climate change co-ordinator.

Judging by the disasters that have hit the continent in the recent past, particularly the devastating cyclone Idai and Kenneth in southern Africa, the experts appear to accuse the AU of having an ineffective response, hence the reason regional blocs are attempting to craft their own response mechanisms.

For instance, while the AU has in place African Risk Capacity that was established in 2012 to support development of better risk management systems on the continent. The initiative does not yet cover cyclone disasters, according to Dr Femi Amao, a lecturer at the University of Sussex.

Dr Amao adds that because of this, countries hit by climate change disasters look more to the international community and less to the AU for relief and response.