Cyclone Freddy, Malawi 2023
Estimated cost: US$507 million
In early March 2023, Malawi experienced one of the worst tropical cyclones on record. Cyclone Freddy led to extreme rainfall, flooding and mudslides, affecting Malawi’s Southern Highlands in particular. An estimated 2.25 million people were affected, including over 650,000 displaced, and over 1,000 people were killed. The cyclone caused extensive damage to transport, water and sanitation systems and other infrastructure, and to housing. It also caused extensive agricultural losses, worsening the already significant problem of food insecurity in Malawi.
Although climate change does not make cyclones more frequent, scientists have observed that climate change has increased the occurrence of more intense and destructive storms.
The direct losses and damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy in Malawi are estimated at US$506.71 million. The cyclone caused an estimated US$347.2 million in physical damages, including destruction or damage to infrastructure ($178.04 million), transport ($110.83 million) and housing ($124.47 million).
Cyclone Freddy also caused an estimated US$159.4 million in economic losses. The largest share of these losses relates to the agriculture sector, with over US$55 million in lost crops.
According to Malawi’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment, the total recovery needs for the physical damages and economic losses are estimated at $680.4 million.
This includes the estimated cost of rebuilding housing and infrastructure, as well as recovery interventions, such as supporting farmers to replant, use more resilient seeds and avoid cultivation on the most “marginal” lands, and rebuild more resilient irrigation systems.
The estimated recovery cost also includes estimates for implementing a new disaster recovery framework, ranging from early warning systems to a planning process for more resilient infrastructure, reflecting the fact that Malawi is extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.
It is important to stress that the above figures reflect only immediate post-disaster costs of Cyclone Freddy, and do not cover the full extent of the economic and non-economic loss and damages that Malawi is experiencing. The Government of Malawi estimates that the country loses an average of 1.7% of its GDP every year because of climate change-related disasters.
At the same time, rising temperatures (resulting in higher evaporation losses) and changes in rainfall patterns are slow- onset changes that pose a lasting challenge, given that Malawi is heavily dependent on rain- fed agriculture. The cumulative effects of climate change may also become a driver of migration in Malawi, which could imply relocation and support costs that are not taken into account by needs assessments after particular disasters.
For more information read Trócaire’s policy report “The Cost of Inaction”