On March 13,2019, six hours before the “horror movie” began, Hermínia Lizete ironically asked her neighbors at the market. “Where are the rains and strong winds that they’ve been predicting on the news? They said it would hit Sofala province, especially Beira,” she added. Beira is Hermínia’s hometown.
Indeed, all sources of information indicated that it was exactly on that day that a major storm would hit the city. Everyone had been warned to leave the area or look for safe places. Nevertheless, Hermínia, as well as several other residents of the province, paid no attention to the warnings.
That day, as she and her colleagues were leaving work early, Hermínia decided to relax and spend the rest of the day cooking her own dinner, something she normally couldn’t do because of her work schedule. What she didn’t know at that time was that she wouldn't eat a spoonful of her meal.
At 7 pm, right after plating her food, she began to hear the sound of a strong wind. She left her dinner to close the windows but, seconds later, the windows were torn open from a strong gust of wind. Cowering in the corner she started screaming for help but she could hear no response, only the sound of metal roofing sheets flying from others roofs and trees falling.
“The situation got worse and the power went out. We lost our cell phone service. We had no candles and nothing else that could help us.We live in the city where we don’t normally need those things. We had to use our phones as a flashlight to see, ” said Hermínia.
At 12 am that night the wind had finally stopped. She and her neighbors went out to help each other, thinking it was all over. Minutes later the wind returned with the rain.
“We were happy there together trying to help each other, but there was not much to do because that was just the beginning. Nobody thought it was necessary to close the windows but that was a mistake because after that gale came the last gale that would destroy everything completely; that’s when I suffered the most. The roof of my house flew off, water rushed into the house, all my clothes and food got wet. We were left with nothing. All of my walls fell and I had to climb out of the house through the open ceiling,” she reported. .
By the morning of the 14th, the second largest city in Mozambique was unrecognizable. Everything had been destroyed and was under water. No cell phone networks were available, and all access roads had been destroyed. Hermínia was surrounded by devastation.
“The next day, the problem of hunger started. We only ate one meal a day because we were supposed to ration food to make it last. No banks were open, no supermarkets, nothing. What little we had, we had to share with the neighbors, ”she said.
Hermínia only managed to leave Beira on the 16th by plane, returning the city of Maputo that she had left in 2016 looking for a new job and an independent life, away from her family.
More than a year after the terrible experience, Hermínia still does not know exactly what caused the storm. She says people were assuming it was associated with climate change, but for her, the truth lies somewhere else.
“I have heard that this has to do with climate change, but the exact explanation of the origin I do not know. I just think it was a natural phenomenon. Only God can explain and go into details about what happened. Or tell us what upset him to let this happen”, she said.
Quite the contrary, Ricardo Ribeiro, director of the Environmental Justice program, the largest civil society organization operating in the field of environmental science in Mozambique, believes that Cyclone Idai is very much related to climate change, and should be considered a great warning for the Mozambican government to take a stand in defense of the environment.
According to Ribeiro, of the last nine cyclones that have hit Mozambique, eight have showed the exact same pattern: they came with a force but as soon as they made landfall they died. It is striking that Idai progressed differently.
“Usually when a cyclone enters and reaches land, it dies because it doesn't have the sea to keep it active. Idai was like a storm and survived, returned to the water and gained more strength to come back to the land. This is very strange behavior. This is the first time that a cyclone has behaved like this. That's why it is said to be due to climate change.”
Mozambique is one of the five countries in the world most affected by climate, despite contributing very little as a polluter of the environment. This is because the country is located in the coastal zone of the continent. It is 2,700 kilometers long, and almost half of the country is made up of low-lying areas, which makes it susceptible to rising sea levels.
Another major contributor to Mozambique's climate problem is associated with the fact that 15 rivers pass through Mozambique and flow into the Indian Ocean. This means that all of the rains that fall in countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia flow to the coast of Mozambique, increasing sea levels.
For all these reasons, according to Ribeiro, Mozambique must stop adapting to the new conditions caused by climate change and start putting pressure on developed countries to achieve science-based climate goals. “Mozambique is getting a lot of adaptation. It is not putting enough political pressure internationally to force northern countries to maintain the goals proposed by science. That is a problem. Adaptation only makes sense if we stay on target,” he said.
In Ribeiro’s view, the Mozambican government is very focused on adaptation, which explains a lack of positive governmental actions in defense of the environment. The initiatives that exist are not really trying to solve the problem but are only on pretending, he thinks.
He sets his biggest hope on young people who are most involved with information technology and have the ability to see what is happening to the world. He believes that they must be educated in such a way that they do not conform to adaptation but are critical and act as climate protectors.
Ribeiro is not the only one who shares this opinion. Regina Charumar is the leader and founder of the environmental project “Geração Consciente” (Portuguese for “conscious generation”). This group, mainly composed of young people, has spent the past three years trying to raise awareness of environmental issues in the Maputo community.
Finishing her PhD degree in Social Sustainability and Development, with a specialization in Environmental Sustainability, the young leader who was born in the city of Beira, , works as a university lecturer professor, as a volunteer, and as a presenter of a television program.
In all her work, she always looks for a way to get young people pay attention to environmental issues. She believes that the country's greatest hope in the area of Environmental Justice is young people, which is why in her television program and the projects she has started, she is very much focused on them. Because, as she says, young people are the future leaders of Mozambique and Africa.
“I feel hope and a promising future when we invest in children, teenagers and young people. The elders are already completely addicted to culture, the way they behave. It is much more difficult to mold a person who has grown up and make them change their behavior compared to young people”, she says.
“Young people are between two paths, in being a good person or a bad person. We have to be able to give all the necessary elements to young people to become good people and that is the way I like to work with young people.” continued Regina.
For all young people she works with at “Conscious Generation” Regina`s role goes beyong being a leader. She has made the activities of the project more than a job. It is a family that they all love so much. Because of her personality and the relationship she has with the group`s members, they have develop a lot of respect and admiration for her and her passion for the job.
She is most likely one of the most active and passionate activists in the country. When she arrived in Maputo City 6 years ago, she was outraged by the state of the beaches, especially the Costa de Sol beach, located in the capital city of Mozambique. Moved by the desire to correct the problem, Regina, in partnership with the academic community, started “Operation Caco” in 2015, a project that was known throughout the country for turning the dirtiest beach in Mozambique into a clean one.
She also founded the cooperative “Ntumbuluku” (meaning “origin” in one of the local languages), with the aim of educating the Mozambican community about the environment. Furthermore, she established the “Friends of the Environment” group. In 2018, she participated in the event “Southern Africa Startup Awards” as an Ambassador for the environment.
Tarik Azizi has been part of the “Conscious Generation” project for two years. He, after having been part of several movements as a volunteer, says he fell in love with the movement because of the way the members relate to each other and the way they work.
According to Tarik, the fact that the project is not only focused on cleaning but also on raising awareness made him want to join that family and since then he has not wanted to leave. Being part of it and seeing the way they interacte makes him feel at home.
“And Regina is a very approachable person who does not create any barriers in communication. We are all volunteers and there is no distinction here in how we treat each other, and it has always created a good relationship between us. Regina is a very spectacular person,” said Tarik.
The thing that makes her happy, says Regina, is to see them join projects like “Geracao Consciente” with a certain type of behavior about the environment and see the change in their behavior over time. “That is the most positive results I see” she said.
Environmental justice gave Regina a purpose to fight and she accepted that purpose. But not only did she accept it, she looked at her country, saw the difficulties and devised strategies for environmental protection. But most importantly did she awaken the young generation`s interest.
While Ribeiro focuses his work on current issues and tries to deal with problems that are happening at a given moment, such as the Cyclone Idai Regina puts her efforts in the future. Those young people started to protect the future. Will they still have enough time to continue their struggle?