Home » General » At Special Economic and Social Council Meeting on Destruction by Cyclone Idai, Speakers Stress Urgent Need for More Emergency Funding, Resilience Assistance

In efforts to address the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March, the Economic and Social Council held a special meeting today on the international response, with the Deputy-Secretary General underscoring that additional emergency funding is desperately needed to contain the ongoing crisis and help mitigate similar events in the future.

“We have our work cut out for us,” said Amina Mohammed, who noted that three weeks after the cyclone, the three affected countries still require assistance due to flooding, the spread of cholera and the displacement of a large number of people.  Although more than $300 million in emergency funding is needed, only $40 million is currently available.  She further stressed that, in addition to the emergency response, help would be needed to rebuild sustainably and prioritize resilience.

Echoing that point, Inga Rhonda King, President of the Economic and Social Council, said that more resources must be invested in disaster risk reduction, including preparedness and early warning at all levels.  Cyclone Idai has killed more than 700 people and destroyed over 100,000 homes and half a million hectares of crops.  It has also rendered thousands of schools and dozens of health facilities unusable.  She urged the international community to contribute to help humanitarian actors contain the crisis and curb the acute food shortage.

David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking via videoconference from Mozambique, painted a vivid picture of the crisis on the ground.  Among his comments, he described how, in the days immediately following the cyclone, WFP helicopters had been used to save people hanging onto rooftops and trees above the 10- to 11-meter high water levels.  With crops destroyed, the Programme is supporting 400,000 people in terms of food provision.  In the longer-term, homes should be rebuilt on higher ground and should be more resilient to cyclones, as this will not be the last one of its kind, he cautioned.

“To be frank, we never saw this coming”, said the representative of Malawi, underlining the need for an early warning system.  To counter the crisis, his country has a three-month plan in place, but there is currently a shortfall in emergency relief funding.  Noting that the current levels of assistance were inadequate, he voiced his concerns about contaminated water and overcrowded relief camps, where gender-based violence against women and girls could arise due to water and food insecurity.

Mozambique’s delegate said Cyclone Idai devastated four provinces in his country with high winds of 180 to 220 kilometres, leaving 598 people dead, 967,014 without shelter, 1.8 million affected by the storm and flooding and major damage to infrastructure and crops.  There was an urgent need for humanitarian assistance that includes food, aid, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as cholera treatment centres, large-scale vaccination and the restoration of essential services.

Summing up the experiences of the three affected countries, the representative of Zimbabwe said that all three had been unprepared to handle Cyclone Idai.  When a cyclone strikes at night and people are sleeping, he noted, they wake up in the middle of a flood and they do not know whether they are dreaming or not.  But, in fact, they are waking up in a disaster and disaster preparedness mechanisms need to be strengthened.

Providing a briefing on response efforts, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that an appeal was made for $230 million in funding to provide humanitarian assistance for over 5 million people.  He asked States to update their efforts on the Financial Tracking Service in order to coordinate efforts and highlighted a major funding shortfall.

Over 40 delegations around the room took the floor, describing their efforts to help the countries affected by the cyclone, both in the short-term with humanitarian assistance and financing and in the longer-term with disaster-risk reduction strategies.

Many speakers voiced their concerns about the necessary funding needed to address the cyclone’s aftermath, with the representative of Rwanda, on behalf of the African Group, noting that the Group, in solidarity with the three affected countries, had contributed $350,000 from an emergency fund.

As well, the representative of the European Union, along with €3.5 million as an emergency funding response, had deployed experts on the ground.

Canada’s delegate, meanwhile, said it has provided a package of over $10 million in aid and is now turning from emergency response to a focus on health and food security.

The representative of Norway said her Government is increasing aid to the region from $2.6 million to $5.5 million, while prioritizing sexual violence prevention measures.

The representative of Belize, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), called on the international community to continue to help support early warning systems and implored colleagues to help move beyond disaster management to disaster risk mitigation.

Echoing that stance, Guyana’s delegate stressed the need to recognize the relationship between poverty and the effects of climate change, given that people often live in precarious areas because that is all they can afford.

To that point, the representative of Switzerland emphasized the importance of the upcoming Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction as an opportunity to address the issue in an international forum.

As the meeting closed, Ms. KING took the floor again, stressing that the United Nations system must commit to work together to better support countries in preparedness and response, as well as by providing investments and development assistance.  She also assured participants that she would issue both a presidential statement that would capture the recommendations from the discussion today and a more detailed summary of the meeting.

The Economic and Social Council will meet again at a date and time to be announced.

Opening Remarks

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), Economic and Social Council President, recalled that on 14 March, one of the most powerful tropical storms ever recorded in the southern hemisphere struck Southern Africa.  Cyclone Idai, which affected Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, brought with it destruction for 3 million people in already vulnerable communities.  The winds and heavy rains killed more than 700 and destroyed more than 100,000 homes.  Thousands of schools and dozens of health facilities can no longer be used, and cases of cholera have been reported.  In addition, almost half a million hectares of crops ready to be harvested have been destroyed, threatening food security, as well as the livelihoods of those who have survived.

Required funding for the immediate humanitarian response for the next three months is $394.2 million, she continued.  The loss of so much harvest-ready crop means that communities which were already food insecure are even more vulnerable now.  Help is needed to survive this coming lean season.  It is critical to contribute generously to help humanitarian actors contain the loss of lives, prevent large disease outbreaks and acute food shortage.

The underlying vulnerability and the critical need to build the resilience of these countries must also be addressed, she said.  The international community must scale up action to reduce disaster risks before the next extreme weather event strikes.  The economic losses are at such a scale that the recovery and rebuilding of what was lost and destroyed by Cyclone Idai will require significant funding of Government-led efforts.  More resources need to be invested in disaster risk reduction, including preparedness, early warning and early action at all levels.

AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, noted that three weeks after Cyclone Idai, the three countries still require profound assistance due to flooding, the spread of cholera and displacement of huge amounts of people.  While the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working to restore drinking water, the countries need more than $300 million in emergency funding over the coming months.  However, only $40 million has been made available.  “We have our work cut out for us,” she said, calling for the international community to respond quickly, help rebuild sustainably and prioritize resilience against climate change.

Briefings

MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said a substantial United Nations response effort, led by the affected countries, has been launched.  In Mozambique, 600 people have died and 100,000 houses have been totally destroyed, with hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land damaged.  Zimbabwe had already been suffering humanitarian crises due to drought.  An appeal was made for $230 million in funding to provide humanitarian assistance for over 5 million people.

He went on to say that while Malawi requires $45.2 million for flood relief, there has been a $28 million shortfall, with 900,000 people immediately affected and the long-term harvest threatened.  Calling on States to update their efforts on the Financial Tracking Service for the sake of coordination, he pointed to a major funding shortfall over the next three months.

DAVID BEASLEY, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking via videoconference from Mozambique, described the devastation that had taken place.  When numerous United Nations agencies arrived in the country, there were no roads, access or power.  During the first couple of days, WFP helicopters were being used for life-saving operations as people were hanging onto rooftops and trees.  The water was 10-11 metres high in many of the affected areas, with villages completely gone.  Because crops have been destroyed, food security will be a serious issue, as will sanitation and clean water.

The World Food Programme is supporting 400,000 people in terms of food, while access to clean water is critical because of cholera and malaria, he continued.  WFP experts and engineers are also on the ground providing necessary support.  Homes should be rebuilt on higher ground and should be more resilient to cyclones.  No one believes this will be the last cyclone, and communities need to be able to withstand this kind of weather, which will become the norm, he noted.

PERKS MASTER CLEMENCY (Malawi) said that, given the immense devastation of Cyclone Idai, current levels of assistance have been inadequate.  He cited 868,900 people affected, with over 80,000 displaced and 60 deaths.  The heavy rain damaged infrastructure at every level, as well as crops, which had been ready for harvest.  Relief camps are overcrowded, contaminated water may spread cholera and malaria, and gender-based violence against women and girls may also be exacerbated because of water and food insecurity.  Commodity and food prices had already increased by 50 per cent, roads and bridges to health facilities were damaged and pregnancy kits lacking.  In addition, care for people with HIV has been disrupted.

“There are gaps in the response,” he stressed.  The country’s three-month plan calls for meeting basic survival needs, reaching flood-affected populations, resuming basic services, including health care and preventing secondary disasters.  Pointing to a $28 million shortfall in emergency relief funding and the imminent spread of disease due to overcrowded camps, he called for an assessment team on the ground.  “To be frank, we never saw this coming”, he said, underlining the need for an early warning system.  He also called for debt relief, given the current emergency.

ANTÓNIO GUMENDE (Mozambique) noted that the human toll is rising in the wake of Cyclone Idai and the emergency has not been fully assessed.  The cyclone devastated four provinces with high winds of 180 to 220 kilometres, leaving 598 people dead, 967,014 without shelter, 1.8 million affected by the storm and flooding and major damage to infrastructure and crops.  The port of Beira suffered 90 per cent infrastructural damage.  His Government has declared a national emergency to take exceptional measures to mobilize and redirect domestic resources.

He highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian assistance, including food aid, shelter, water and sanitation.  Furthermore, the country requires cholera treatment centres, large-scale vaccination, and restoration of essential infrastructure.  He also pointed out that extreme weather events have become commonplace, with Mozambique experiencing 25 cyclones since declaring independence in 1975.  Post-cyclone needs will be substantial and urgent to put Mozambique back on the path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), thanking everyone that came to his country’s aid, including the international community and the United Nations, underscored that he was pleased to see South-South action and assistance as soon as Cyclone Idai struck.  One of the problems faced by all three affected countries was unpreparedness to handle the cyclone, particularly in the case of the first responders.  When a cyclone strikes at night and people are sleeping, they wake up in the middle of a flood and they do not know whether they are dreaming or not, he noted.  But, in fact, they are waking up in a disaster and disaster preparedness mechanisms need to be strengthened.

He went on to say that climate change was a broad issue and a wakeup call.  In Zimbabwe there have been 259 recorded deaths from the cyclone, while others still remain unaccounted for.  As well as providing the basics in terms of shelter, tents and blankets, the care of school children is very important.  In the affected area, because 87 schools will not be able to be reconstructed in a short time, school may have to be held in tents in order to continue classes.  In addition, he stressed that it will be important to provide psychological help for the populations around these areas.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the crisis pointed out the need for a multisectoral response, noting that the Moroccan Government had provided a tremendous amount of relief, including tents and other emergency goods.  More so, the climate component of the crisis illustrates the ongoing threat to Africa.  While acknowledging the humanitarian facet includes an urgent need for $350 million in funding, the international community must also ensure States are made more resilient in the future to tackle similar disasters, with technical assistance also required.

Political discussions in the United Nations must be turned into tangible action on the ground, he stressed.  The international community must be pragmatic in its responses and build bridges between humanitarian efforts and other sectors.  He called for a visit on the ground to the affected areas before an upcoming meeting in Geneva not only to evaluate humanitarian and development needs, but to guarantee effective rebuilding efforts.

ACHIM STEINER, Administrator of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that the first responders from within the region, the United Nations, the international community and non-governmental organizations have been able to provide some comfort in the immediate aftermath, although some people have not been reached and more needs to be done.  UNDP is working alongside humanitarian responders to assist the three Governments and the international community during the recovery phase.

Immediately after the cyclone, UNDP triggered a surge capacity and released addition funds to the affected countries to help their Governments to prepare for the recovery and reconstruction phase, he said.  “Building back better” and “leaving no one behind” are always spelled out but are difficult to fulfil, he noted, adding that disaster risk preparedness and capacity-building are an integral part of recovery and resilience.

Interactive Dialogue

Over 40 delegates took the floor to voice their concerns for the affected countries, describe their participation in aid operations and highlight the larger picture of climate change and its impact on vulnerable regions.

The representative of Cabo Verde, speaking for the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, said the cyclone is evidence that climate change is not an abstraction.

The representative of Rwanda, speaking for the African Group, noted over 2 million people were affected by the crisis.  The Group, acting in solidarity with the three affected countries, had contributed $350,000 from an emergency fund.

A representative of the European Union said the bloc had provided €3.5 million as an emergency funding response and had deployed experts on the ground.

The representative of Ireland, citing a long and deep history of friendship with all the countries affected by Cyclone Idai, said her country has provided €1.15 million in support of the response.

The representative of Canada said his country has provided a package of over $10 million in aid and is now turning from emergency response to focus on health and food security.

The representative of Norway, and Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, speaking in her national capacity, said the Norwegian Government is increasing aid to the region by $2.9 million to a total of $5.5 million.  In addition to emergency relief, measures to prevent sexual violence and abuse will be prioritized.

The representative of the United States said the death toll was already too high and expected to increase, with over 2 million people in urgent need.  Her Government deployed elite experts on 20 March to Mozambique and is providing technical assistance to assess risks of water-borne diseases, including cholera, with other significant aid planned.

The representative of the Russian Federation noted what is most terrifying are the risks to come, citing efforts by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and funding from its central emergency response fund to which his Government has provided $14.5 million.

The representative of the United Kingdom described how his Government’s aid will help to feed 400,000 people through the World Food Programme.

The representative of Belize, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), called on the international community to continue to help support early warning systems and implored colleagues to help move beyond disaster management to disaster risk mitigation.

Echoing that, the representative of Portugal urged the international community to focus on epidemics and resilience.

As well, the representative of the United Arab Emirates said the international community must focus on mitigation and adaptation due to how climate disasters amplify existing vulnerabilities and called on the United Nations to move towards more forecast-based funding.

The representative of Guyana called on the international community to recognize the growing relationship between poverty and the effects of climate change, stating people live in precarious areas and unsafe housing because it is all they can afford.

The representative of Switzerland pointed to the importance of the upcoming Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction as an opportunity to address the issue.

The representative of Bangladesh said that his country has done well with disaster preparedness and has a proactive approach focusing on the identification of hazards and on response.  Its paradigm has shifted from relief to disaster risk reduction.

A representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that it is working on assessment and mapping with the United Nations and Governments and has two emergency response units linked to water.  The crisis has only just begun and the resources his organization has are insufficient in the short term, let alone in the long term.

Also speaking today were representatives of Angola, Mexico, Estonia, Japan, Namibia (for the Southern African Development Community), Austria, Republic of Korea, Brazil, New Zealand, Sweden, Kazakhstan, China, Thailand, Turkey, India, Monaco, Mauritius, Egypt, United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya, Finland, Guatemala, Denmark and Nigeria.

Representatives of the Food and Agriculture Association, the International Organization for Migration and the World Meteorological Organization also spoke.

Closing Remarks

Ms. KING said that the meeting had provided an opportunity to take stock of the situation in the three countries affected by Cyclone Idai, as well as offering an overview of efforts to save lives.  Topics covered including humanitarian needs, including the response to cholera, as well as the provision of shelter, food, water and sanitation.  These are urgent needs, encouraging continued financial support to reduce suffering, she stressed, adding that there is also a need for reconstruction to start immediately.

The United Nations system must commit to work together to better support countries in preparedness and response, as well as by providing investments and development assistance, she continued.  Concessional finance, including climate finance and other forms of development cooperation, will be needed to rebuild.  The debt distress of affected countries must be eased to increase their fiscal space to respond effectively.  She noted that she would issue both a presidential statement that would capture the recommendations from the discussion today and a more detailed summary of the meeting.

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