With the world’s media focused on the international leaders and delegates gathering in Glasgow it’s easy to forget that the people who are affected by climate change the most are the ones who have done the least to cause it.

This couldn’t be more true than with Paulo Araujo, who was just 17 years old, when his home city Beira in Mozambique was hit by one of the worst recorded tropical cyclones in the southern hemisphere in 2019. He remembers it as the day he thought the world was ending.

Paulo was just a schoolboy; his mother owned a shop, his father worked in an office, and he remembers vividly the day that Cyclone Idai struck. “The morning was a normal day, the government didn’t announce anything about a cyclone coming.”

Paulo arrived at school that morning, but it was closed and his headteacher told him that there was no power, so he had to go home.

“I used to attend two schools and when I went to my second school, which is in the centre of the city, I started to understand that there’s something wrong.”

The Herald: Paulo AraujoPaulo Araujo

Shops were closing, Paulo realised that everyone in the city were moving quickly, trying to get themselves home. He got home at ten, and he was surprised to find his father there working and he told Paulo he needed to stay inside, he didn’t know why, but only that he must. It was midday and Paulo was having lunch with his family, it was beautiful outside, then the official weather warning came in from the president and the reality sunk in.

“I was scared as I have never experienced anything like this.”

It was around two in the afternoon when it started raining, then at four the power went out, Paulo’s father was listening to the radio for further information, the weather was getting worse.

“I was trying to read something, but it was raining and raining. “The wind outside, it was so strong, that has never happened in my city.” It was six in the evening and Idai was making its way to the mainland of Mozambique, Paulo’s city Beira, would be right in its path.

“I was kind of trying to monitor my neighbourhood through the window and I remember the first time I saw a tree fall down, I was like wow, one of the oldest trees in my community was falling down. “I was scared at that moment.”

It was pitch black due to the power outage. 

"My younger brother and sister at this moment, they were crying. “Minutes later, as I was trying to see my neighbourhood, I was seeing houses being destroyed.”

Paulo remembers three distinct sounds that evening, his brother and sister crying, the torrential rain and his home being ripped apart. “I remember my house being destroyed, it started in my father’s room and then little by little it destroyed the entire house.

“I was trying to protect my brother and sister, but my father gave me this piece of advice and it sounded like it was the last piece of advice that I was going to get from my father.

Paulo’s heart sank as he thought this was going to be his father’s last ever words to him. “He said that at this stage you cannot protect anyone just try and protect yourself.”

The Herald: [Credit: Oxfam][Credit: Oxfam]

Paulo didn’t want to leave his siblings, but the walls were falling on him, the roof from his neighbour’s home blew in as well and he realised he could only keep himself safe.

“It was horrible and there was this moment that I don’t know if I lost my mind, or my brain stopped working or even I forgot what happened.” His mind went blurry, he blocked out everything that was going on around him, he just wanted to survive the night.

It was around five in the morning the next day that Paulo climbed out from the rubble, he had no idea where any of his family were or even if they were alive, he had no idea how he survived himself.

“No one at home died but we lost everything, our house was completely destroyed. “The city was completely destroyed, and I was like wow that’s probably the end of the world.

“I was trying to understand, am I supposed to celebrate because I didn’t die or am I supposed to be sad because people, who were my neighbours and my friends, died.”

Paulo lost his home, he lost his uncle and friends, and his mother lost her business, just like so many others in his city.

He spent a full week scavenging through debris for food and clean water as aid was slow in coming to Beira, he had to spend each day wading through water, looking for somewhere safe and dry to sleep at night. Cyclone Idai ripped apart entire communities, it killed 1300 people, it destroyed over 50,000 homes and caused a humanitarian crisis that people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are still living with today.

Paulo’s story is just one of many who are affected by the climate crisis and who have done the least to cause it, COP 26 is an opportunity to address this, but there is a lot more that needs to be done as Mozambique stands as one of the most affected countries in the world by climate change.

These intense and extreme weather catastrophes will only become more frequent as temperatures and seas levels rise if immediate action isn’t taken.

This story is part of a special youth collaboration for COP26, aiming to highlight the acute nature of the climate emergency by the world’s least developed countries. 

Student journalists from Scotland and across the UK have ‘partnered’ with young people from these places to highlight the life changing consequences of global warming already felt by these communities. 

Paulo Jose Aruajo Aruajo is from Beira, Mozambique and is a student at the African Leadership Academy.  His story was written in partnership with Bethany Watt and Alasdair Ferguson, journalism students at Glasgow Caledonian University.