Natural disasters in Mozambique: past and future risks
Mozambique has been developing intensively in recent years, becoming a popular tourist destination. Every year the number of people who come to the country to go on safari or relax on the beaches, to get acquainted with the culture and customs of the natives, to admire the beautiful nature increases. They should find out in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing about its potential, you can prepare for it.
Climatic characteristics of Mozambique
Mozambique is a country in South-East Africa, a relatively narrow strip stretching along the Indian Ocean for almost 3 thousand kilometres. Most of the country is located in the humid tropical climate zone and only in the north – subequatorial.
The state is characterised by the division of the year into two seasons – dry and wet. The most precipitation falls in the local summer – in January-March. The least – in May-July. During the local winter, rainfall is so low that droughts occur in many parts of the country, leading to forest fires.
The eastern part of the country is low-lying, flat and has many rivers that easily overflow during the rainy season and tropical cyclones.
Mozambique lies in the area of spreading cyclones of the Indian Ocean, which do not stop even the island of Madagascar. Many cyclones originate in the Strait of Mozambique and reach the coast almost immediately. The period from November to April is a risky time for strong cyclones.
The western and northern parts of Mozambique are covered with mountains and plateaus. Here is the southern tip of the African rift, an active tectonic zone that threatens the country with earthquakes. It is also home to several ancient volcanoes that are considered extinct.
Much of the territory is covered with forests and savannahs. During the dry season, fires can occur here.
Potentially dangerous factors that can cause a natural disaster include:
- Seismic activity. The Great African Rift is located in the north-west of the country and is the source of frequent seismic events. Sometimes earthquakes can reach dangerous strength.
- The long coastline. Even under the protection of the island of Madagascar, which has cut off most of the coast from the ocean, there is a high risk of hurricanes, cyclones and tsunamis.
- Volcanism. Currently, Mozambique’s volcanoes do not erupt and are considered dormant, but this may change with increased tectonic activity.
- Seasonal hurricanes and storms. Intensify from November to April and can cause destruction on the coastline.
- Heavy rains. Can cause short-term flooding and overflow of numerous rivers.
- High mountains and plateaus. Increase the likelihood of landslides and rockfalls, threatening transport links and settlements.
- High forest cover and long savannahs. There is the potential for forest fires to occur and spread.
The importance of studying the history of natural disasters
The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be awaiting you will not only help you choose the right place, but also the time and season of the year when the threat of being in the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.
For example, knowing that the season of tropical cyclones and rains, when floods most often occur, begins in late December and lasts until early March, you can choose a different time to travel to Mozambique.
In this article, you will learn the chronology of natural disasters that have occurred on the island in the past.
Earthquakes and tsunamis
Mozambique is located entirely on the African plate. The Great African Rift runs along the north of the country, gradually splitting the platform into two parts. Seismic events in the country are related to the mutual movement of plates, and therefore earthquakes are very likely here.
As a rule, earthquakes are not characterised by high intensity and do not cause serious damage. A typical example of such an event was the earthquake of 24 June 2017, the epicentre of which was located near the city of Beira. The intensity of the tremors was 5.8, with no damage or casualties.
Every year, 3–4 earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 5 points occur in the country. Their epicentres lie on the mainland, and therefore they do not lead to tsunami formation. Even the catastrophic tsunami of 2004 did not affect Mozambique.
22 February 2006
The largest earthquake in the history of the country occurred in the central part of the country, its epicentre was located near the town of Machaze. The magnitude of the tremors exceeded 7 points, and only the absence of large settlements in the epicentre prevented many victims. But the tremors were felt all over the country, in the capital Maputo their strength was about 5 points. As a result, 4 people died, several dozens were injured. After the tremors, a surface fault 15 kilometres long and a vertical displacement of 2 metres was formed.
Mozambique does not have volcanoes in the traditional sense of the word. There are no volcanic cones with columns of smoke rising above them and molten rocks – lava – flowing down the slopes. All volcanoes of the country have long been extinct and have not been active for thousands of years. But history remembers examples when even dormant volcanoes suddenly woke up and began to actively erupt.
This is Mozambique’s most famous volcano, 780 metres high. It is located in the west of the country, south of Lake Nyasa. Its crater is 200 metres deep, and volcanologists believe it has enough mineral reserves for a catastrophic eruption. But this volcano has been dormant for so long that the date of its last eruption cannot even be determined.
Cyclones and hurricanes
The tropical cyclone season begins at the end of November each year and lasts until early April, rarely extending into May. Mozambique is located in the path of cyclones that bring hurricane-force winds and cause flooding. Here are some typical cases from recent years.
March 2019, Cyclone Idai
This cyclone was the deadliest in history for the Southwest Indian Ocean area. It affected dozens of countries, and in Mozambique caused monstrous destruction and flooding. Wind gusts reached 280 kilometres per hour, easily destroying houses and ripping out trees. Heavy rainfall caused a number of major rivers to overflow. In Mozambique alone, Idai claimed the lives of 602 people and about a million were forced to leave their homes and evacuate. Total damages exceeded $2 billion.
January 2021, Cyclone Eloise
Wind gusts reached 215 kilometres per hour, but the cyclone quickly weakened after reaching the coast of Mozambique and did not cause as much destruction as Idai. About 100,000 people were evacuated, but that did not help avoid fatalities. 11 people died and farmland was badly damaged. Total damage totalled $10 million.
2022, Cyclones Ana and Gombe
At the end of January 2022, Cyclone Ana hit the country, which was not the strongest and most destructive, but still caused 20 deaths. In March, Cyclone Gombe arrived from the Indian Ocean, stronger and more destructive. Hurricane force winds destroyed thousands of homes across the country, 63 people died in collapses and flooding.
February-March 2023, Cyclone Freddy
This cyclone was the longest lasting cyclone in the history of weather observations. It lasted for more than 4 weeks, with wind gusts of up to 220 kilometres per hour at its peak. Freddy caused numerous floods, the devastating effects of which were intensified by a cholera outbreak. More than a thousand houses were destroyed, with dead people being found under the rubble every day. The total number of casualties was 198 and the damage exceeded $600 million.
Heavy rainfall, which peaks between December and March, often causes devastating floods with loss of life.
Cyclone Leon-Eline brought heavy rainfall to the coast of Mozambique that lasted for more than a week and resulted in the worst flooding in the country in 50 years. Thousands of hectares of agricultural land were flooded, roads and bridges were destroyed, and about 20,000 cattle died. Even the country’s capital, Maputo, was in the flood zone. Nearly 800 people drowned or went missing, and after the floods subsided, outbreaks of dangerous intestinal infections were recorded. The total damage exceeded 500 million dollars.
Cyclone Favio and the resulting rainfall caused the country’s largest river, the Zambezi, to overflow its banks. The reservoir of the Cahora-Bassa hydroelectric power station was overflowing. About 200,000 people were urgently evacuated, but many refused to leave their homes. As a result, 10 people died and another 30 were injured.
Tropical Cyclone Idai caused another severe flooding in Mozambique and its neighbour Malawi. In the flood line were about 45 thousand houses, the number of refugees reached 900 thousand people. But victims could not be avoided, and 45 people died in the catastrophic flood.
Drought and forest fires
Drought is Mozambique’s second most common natural disaster. From April to November, rainfall is very low in some regions of the country. Both natural parks and agriculture suffer. The dry season is often the cause of the spread of forest fires. However, this disaster can happen even in winter, as it happened in January 2022, when the entire south of the country was hit by an unprecedented drought.
Some of the worst wildfires in the country’s history occurred in August 2008. Hundreds of hectares of forest in the central part of the country were engulfed by fire. Emergency services were unable to cope with the extinguishment, and 32 people died in the fire.
The greatest threat to tourists on holiday in Mozambique is the winter cyclone season and the flooding associated with its onset. Almost every year, heavy rainfall causes rivers to overflow and flood the streets of towns. The floods kill people and disrupt communication between settlements. The peak of this disaster is between January and March.
Floods and hurricanes mostly affect the central regions of the country, but they also occur in the south, where most tourists are.
The risk of earthquakes in the country is low. There are no strong tremors. The danger of volcanic eruptions is low. There is no danger of tsunamis.
The risk of forest fires and drought is high, but tourist regions are not affected by these disasters.
The best time to travel to Mozambique is from May to October. This is the period when rainfall is minimal and air and seawater temperatures remain quite high and comfortable. Droughts often occur at this time, but they do not threaten tourist regions.