The tragic flooding in Mozambique in 2019 that resulted in more than 1,000 deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people was a devastating event that highlighted the deadly consequences of a combination of factors. Aging dams, failed warnings, and climate change were all determinant factors in the disaster.
The tragedy began on January 5 when Cyclone Idai, one of the most destructive storms ever to hit the African continent, made landfall. As a result of the high winds and heavy rain, two major dams in Mozambique began overflowing with water. The Chiveve and Mepanda N ansaura dams were both built in the 1970s and have not been fully maintained in the intervening years. Although reports say both dams were built to withstand floods, the aging infrastructure was ill-equipped to manage the massive amount of water that the storm brought.
Inaddition, the country’s flood warning systems failed. The National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology in Mozambique had issued warnings to residents in the region prior to the storm but these warnings fell on deaf ears. Furthermore, in the days leading up to the storm, the government had asked for assistance from the UN and the EU in the form of food aid, however both agencies were delayed in responding to the request due to bureaucratic standstills.
The combination of aging infrastructure, failed warning systems, and a delayed response to an impending natural disaster proved to be a lethal mix. It is estimated that approximately 500,000 Mozambicans were affected by the flooding. Additionally, the storm highlighted the importance of preparedness when it comes to preventing disaster deaths. By maintaining infrastructure, having an effective warning system for natural disasters, and receiving external aid quickly, lives can be saved.