Rich countries must pay for cyclone devastation in southern Africa

Cyclone Idai has ravaged parts of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in what the UN says could be the worst weather-related disaster ever to hit the southern hemisphere.

Millions of people were in the direct path of the cyclone, with the port city of Beira in Mozambique bearing the brunt.

Environmental activists in southern Africa describe the destruction as another illustration of how climate change caused by the rich is having its worst effects in the world’s poorest countries. The following statement was issued on Monday, March 18, by the Centre for Natural Resources Governance in Harare, Zimbabwe.


Rich countries must compensate victims of climate change disasters

Cyclone Idai is sweeping across Southern Africa with Mozambique and Zimbabwe being the hardest hit. More than 200 people have died across the region since the storm hit on 4 March. In Zimbabwe Chimanimani district is the hardest hit, with more than 65 people confirmed dead as of Sunday 17 March whilst hundreds are still missing. Hundreds of homes were swept away whilst road infrastructure was destroyed, rendering Chimanimani inaccessible for rescue efforts.

Whilst human life is beyond monetary value, the loss in terms of damage to property can reach billions of dollars, and some of the families may never recover from their loss unless they are properly compensated. And yet the big question is who must take responsibility for compensating the affected people?

The link between extreme weather events and climate change can no longer be disputed. Climate change, being a culmination of unrelenting emission of greenhouse gases, mainly by the industrialized rich countries, is responsible for the disaster unfolding in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi – countries with among the world’s lowest emissions rates.

However, whilst rich countries have enough resources to cushion their populations from some of the extreme effects of climate change, poor countries have limited resources to cope with climate change-related disasters. Had there been enough adaptation resources, a significant number of lives could have been saved. Many were washed away whilst sleeping in their homes in the dead of the night.

Whilst the benefits of greenhouse gas emissions are enjoyed by the rich countries, the poor countries are on the receiving end of deleterious effects of climate change. Sadly, given the reluctance of rich countries to take drastic action towards carbon emission reductions, natural disasters are set to increase resulting in more loss of lives and property in the poor countries. Sadly majority of the victims have no idea as to who is chiefly responsible for their calamities.

The situation unfolding in our region is of global significance. It is a consequence of human action and those contributing more to climate change ought to compensate the victims.

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance is of the view that the rich countries must pay their climate debt to the Zimbabwean people – but the Zanu PF government and Minister Mthuli Ncube cannot be trusted to manage the payments.

Instead, we need trusted agencies in civil society to receive aid and direct transfers to the ordinary people affected. This could be done simply by arranging payout systems in the affected parts of Zimbabwe, so that everyone living in those areas would get a reparations payment. There is need to compensate families for loss of lives, destruction of homes and even loss of food, livestock and domestic utensils.

The situation is dire in fragile states where governments have misplaced priorities which relegate human security to humanitarian work of Non-Governmental Organisations and well-wishers.

What is Climate Debt?

The Earth has one atmosphere and climate system.

We must live within its limits and share the benefits fairly.

The wealthy have used more than a fair and sustainable share, driving climate change and its adverse effects.

The wealthy therefore owe a climate debt to the poor for:

  • Their excessive demands on a shared atmosphere and climate system, requiring the poor to pay to mitigate a crisis they did little to cause (an emissions debt); and
  • The damages and costs caused by climate change, requiring the poor to adapt to its adverse effects (an adaptation debt).

A growing movement of peoples and countries are calling for repayment of climate debts as the basis of an equitable, effective and science-based solution to climate change.

Key Demands:

  • The restoration to developing countries the atmospheric space that is occupied by the wealthy’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The decolonization of the atmosphere through the reduction and absorption of developed countries’ emissions.
  • Assumption of the costs and technology transfer needs of developing countries arising from the loss of development opportunities due to living in a restricted atmospheric space.
  • Assumption of responsibility for the hundreds of millions of people that will be forced to migrate due to the climate change caused by these countries, and eliminate their restrictive immigration policies, offering migrants a decent life with full human rights guarantees in their countries.
  • Assumption of adaptation debt related to the impacts of climate change on developing countries by providing the means to prevent, minimize, and deal with damages arising from their excessive emissions.
  • The  honoring of these debts as part of a broader debt to Mother Earth by adopting and implementing the United Nations Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

More Information:

For the latest updates on climate debt please click here. For further information on climate debt please see the following:


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