Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones to ever hit Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. The long-lasting storm caused catastrophic damage and a humanitarian crisis in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi in 2019. More than 1,500 people lost their lives, and many more went missing. As the climate continues to change, such storms will (probably) become stronger. However, the past, present and future relationship between coastal communities and the natural protective ecosystems around them is not known.
In a model study, ETH researchers investigated the following questions: How many people are currently threatened by tropical cyclones, and how many benefit from the protective services of natural coastal habitats such as mangrove forests, reefs or salt marshes? How many people will be at risk in the future as temperatures continue to rise, and how many could be protected through habitat restoration?
According to model calculations just published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, an annual average of 67 million people living in low-lying coastal areas worldwide are currently at risk from cyclones. The greatest number of these people (in absolute terms) are in China, where 40 million people are at risk each year. Many coastal residents in Japan and the Philippines are also at risk from cyclones, with 11 and 9 million people respectively threatened per year.