Disaster in Zimbabwe: Cyclone Idai, Climate Change, and Capitalism's Assault on the Global South


Mafa Kwanisai Mafa | Ecology & Sustainability | Commentary | April 20th, 2019



About a month ago Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique were devastated by a tropical cyclone which has been described as one of the worst disasters ever to strike the southern hemisphere. Approximately 2.6 million people were affected in the three countries. Cyclone Idai hit the Mozambican port city of Beira with winds up to 170km/ph., it then proceeded into inland Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and took more than 1000 people and others unaccounted for across the countries. Torrential rainfall washed away road networks in Zimbabwe. The United Nations called it possibly the worst ever weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere.

Western capitalists are largely at blame for climatic changes that cause natural and environmental disasters. Poverty, which is a result of the diabolic and pernicious economic sanctions, as well as a natural byproduct of global capitalism, has resulted in poor and weak structures which do not withstand the heavy winds and storms.

The economic prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank has forced countries like Zimbabwe to reduce their budgets on social services as governments are forced to impress and attract investors in line with the neoliberal path. Things like sanitation, emergency services, and disease-outbreak prevention are poorly resourced and often times lead to unnecessary loss of life. From the statistics of past natural disasters in poor counties like Haiti, and impoverished cities like New Orleans, these factors lead to high death tolls compared to well-resourced sectors in the western world. The Civil Protection Unit of Zimbabwe had developed the National Flood Plan Management framework; however, because of depleted resources caused by IMF and World-Bank intervention, was not fully implemented. Very little of the nation's budget is allocated for disaster management, as determined by the needs of capitalism's pursuit of profit.

The Donald Trump Administration and EU have extended their sanctions on Zimbabwe despite its reforms and capitulation to neoliberal dictates in the form of austerity measures. This means that Zimbabwe must brace for further economic turmoil because of the renewal of sanctions. To further exacerbate the situation, Zimbabwe is facing drought and trying to recover from the gory effects of tropical cyclone Idai, which has killed many and displaced thousands. The entire infrastructure of Zimbabwe is now in ruin. If Zimbabwe was not under sanctions, its response to Cyclone Idai could have been much better. Destruction could have been avoided; lives could have been saved. Like every nation under US sanctions, Zimbabwe is experiencing failing healthcare, dwindling government coffers, failed service delivery, and food and basics shortages. In a similar situation, Iran took the US to the International Court of Justice in October 2018 and the ICJ ruled that the US must stop restricting medical and basic supplies to Iran. What is the impact of the ICJ ruling on Zimbabwe's medical system?

Tropical cyclone Idai brings vital lessons: it's a stark reminder of the deadly effects of greenhouse effect. A hotter world means more damaging cyclones because they draw their energy from the oceans. The hotter the ocean, the more powerful and devastating the cyclones have become. Hotter oceans and melting ice caps also mean a rise in ocean levels, which means cyclones spin faster, do more damage, and have more energy to get into the interior. The governments that have the power and resources to effect change, like the US, are failing to take climate change seriously. Governments who would like to effect change remain impotent due to global capitalism's demands. It is a threat to humanity and its environment.


The Global Connection

The inequalities within the poor global south are caused by the capitalist economic systems of the rich North. The legacy of colonialism and apartheid still manifest in most of the African and third world countries, and this has adversely hampered human and economic development. The poor and the working class in these countries are suffering the most from climate change and must push for climate justice. The global North are the biggest culprits in environmental degradation and carbon emissions; thus, are responsible for creating an environment ripe for natural disasters.

The rich countries have technology of early warning systems and disaster management and preparedness. It is only the poor countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique who bear the brunt of the effects of natural disasters, with the biggest number of casualties. Western capitalism must give poor nations debt relief and allow them to chart their economic path using their own natural resources, which in many cases exist in abundance. Zimbabwe at independence adopted the Rhodesian debt whose money was used kill the black people in their quest for freedom and self-determination. South Africa also adopted the Apartheid debt which it is still paying up to this day - a debt whose money was used to oppress butcher them with impunity.

With so many resources at their disposal, countries throughout the global south would be able to redistribute their wealth equally for putting up flood defenses, social services, and investing in appropriate technology. Humanitarian assistance has been a curse to African development - a trojan horse used to push through capitalist austerity. African countries have the capacity to stand on their own if they are allowed to chart their independent path. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which is assessing the damage on food crops, estimates that about 200,000 Zimbabweans will need urgent food aid for the next three months. Most of the food aid which is provided on humanitarian grounds is genetically modified and poses a serious health risk to the local people.

The US military is contemplating sending rescue teams to Mozambique; however, this is not trusted since they are butchering people all over the world in unprovoked wars. Most countries are suffering and millions dying through the US's direct or proxy wars and economic sanctions. Mozambique is wary and considering denying them entry into their country, despite desperate times.

Because of the rapacious nature of the capitalist economic system, which has no regard for nature or human life, we are now confronted with an environmental crisis that threatens to undermine the basis of civilization and survival of human species. There is now a global consensus that the emission of greenhouse gases is caused by use of fossil fuels which global capitalism has relied upon as the main source of energy supply. Global temperatures are precariously rising.

China is now the biggest player in the global capitalist economy and it has overtaken the US as the biggest carbon emission emitter. China and US combined account for 40% of the global emissions of carbon dioxide worldwide. If the levels of emission do not subside, the world will experience more extreme floods, droughts and storms, disappearance of the Arctic ice cap, dramatic cuts in food yields, and the drying out of the Amazon rainforest. Notwithstanding all the looming catastrophe world gas and coal production is surging.


Capitalism is the Cause

The root cause of the climate change is capitalism, an economic system that thrives on exploitation of human beings and the natural environment. The world, if it is to survive, needs an alternative system that values social equity, justice, and environmental sustainability. Humanity and the natural environment are under threat because of the capitalist system, which is based on private ownership of the means of production. Overproduction and waste are endemic. The crisis of humankind requires putting an end to capitalism. Capitalism is only concerned about profit.

The great danger today, with the way in which these environmentalist topics are being addressed, is that they are being used with a short-term political objectives in mind. Many researchers and scientists are reaching a conclusion that there is a tendency towards climate warming. More organisations and political parties are being formed on the pretext of fighting against global warming without any practical result. There is a deliberate diversion away from the real polluters by asking citizens to be responsible and make them understand that they must take care by throwing plastic materials into different waste bins and that they should stop buying cotton buds from supermarkets because they are terrible source of pollution. A systemic issue is being individualized, in true capitalist fashion. And it is a smokescreen.

Capitalists pollute billions of tonnes of oil into the China Sea, while a citizen throws three cotton buds into the wrong bin. Are we really going to save this planet through these everyday actions? It is a claptrap. While many politicians, world leaders, and big corporations speak about the future effects of climate change, poor and impoverished nations are already struggling to battle the consequences of rising global temperatures. They speak as if it's a future problem, but its already here and happening throughout the global south. It's only a matter of time before it hits the north.

The world's poor are not causing the problem, but they bear the brunt of climate change. They are suffering from drought and suffer in worsening storms because they cannot afford to build houses that can withstand storms or escape to higher ground. Governments encourage citizens to do "one green action a day" but ordinary citizens are not the root cause of climate change. Extreme weather disasters are becoming more prevalent around the world, be it Zimbabwe or elsewhere. Capitalism is the culprit. Let's save our environment and nature from global capitalism.