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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest
The cyclone that struck Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi on March 14 killed more than 1,300 Africans, with 1,000 victims in Mozambique alone. More shocking is the fact that the cyclone was only a Category 2 storm.
Hurricane Florence that hit the southeastern United States in 2018 was also a Category 2 storm. But it did not cause nearly the same loss of life and property that Mozambique experienced.
Often, when we see the disturbing photos from a natural disaster like Cyclone Idai, our immediate reaction is “Why weren’t those people evacuated?” Currently, the Mozambican government is working to move people out of harm’s way.
“Before the storm even made landfall, its outer bands caused flooding in neighboring Malawi, killing more than 120, demonstrating just how huge the storm was,” The Washington Post reported.
“The storm, packing winds that topped 100 mph, landed a direct hit on Mozambique’s fourth-largest city, Beira, home to half a million people,” the Post added. “The city is almost totally submerged. Idai then stalled out over the mountainous border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe, causing massive landslides that swept away roads and homes.”
Evacuation notices certainly do save lives, but it is important to note that evacuations require a great deal of coordination and administrative support. Any evacuation decision comes from a well-developed infrastructure that supports the evacuation notice as well as the actual evacuation.
Evacuations Require a Well-Developed Infrastructure for Effective Public Notification
Issuing an evacuation notice to a threatened region requires an infrastructure that can effectively manage warning the general public of a dangerous situation. Before the era of mass communications, police officers and other public servants would knock on doors to make sure that citizens understood they needed to leave the area.
In recent years, radio and television stations, social media sites, and alert apps on cellphones have been used to quickly disseminate important evacuation notices within minutes. Some countries, however, still do not have the infrastructure or the financial means to quickly get information out to the public.
Also, many residents of poorer countries do not own televisions or radios, which makes spreading evacuation notifications more difficult. Ultimately, if citizens are unaware of an impending serious situation, they have no reason to think about leaving their homes and businesses.
Evacuating People Who Cannot Help Themselves
During an emergency situation, there will always be individuals who will need extra assistance. Therefore, it is important to have an infrastructure in place that can move these people out of harm’s way.
If authorities require individuals to leave their homes for their own safety, they must provide the infrastructure to rapidly move people out of danger. That’s when public transportation becomes important because some people will not be able to leave the area in danger on their own.
Local authorities, for example, need to effectively use buses during such an emergency. Even during Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Department of Transportation was able to mobilize 1,350 buses.
Evacuation problems often occur because the coordination of resources among relief agencies is mismanaged. International relief efforts under proper management can effectively evacuate people from the most seriously damaged areas in southeastern Africa. But it will take continuous rescue operations by numerous organizations and manpower to bring those affected by Cyclone Idai to safety.