Namibia and Zambia get disaster warnings

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As the water level in the upper Zambezi River continues to climb past its highest levels ever, destroying crops and road networks, disaster officials in Namibia and Zambia have warned that food security could worsen.

Heavy seasonal rains have also caused several smaller rivers to flood, cutting off access, destroying schools and displacing hundreds of thousands of people in Namibia, Zambia and Angola, while raising the threat of outbreaks of diseases like malaria and cholera. “We are already struggling with low food stocks – the floods will affect our food production for the coming season,” said Dominicano Mulenga, national coordinator of Zambia’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU).

Flooding has affected 15 districts so far, mostly in Western and North Western provinces, and has completely cut off at least one district, Shang’ombo, in Western Province. “We are trying to find ways to get food and essential supplies into the district,” said Mulenga. “Water levels in the Zambezi in Western Province have crossed the second highest level ever recorded since 1969.” The DMMU team is conducting assessments of the damage to crops. Flooding has already caused an estimated $5 million worth of damage to infrastructure in Zambia, according to Mulenga.

Rains continue

Heavy rains have continued to pound the upper reaches of the Zambezi in western Zambia, southeastern Angola and northeastern Namibia. The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said Zambia’s food security situation would be of great concern until April, due to possible shortages of maize grain and meal on local markets. Guido van Langenhove, a hydrologist at the Namibian Ministry of Agriculture, warned that “The situation in Namibia, which has experienced its worst flooding in recent times, is likely to get worse in the northeast.”

Worst floods in decades

In northeastern Namibia the Zambezi has risen above its highest recorded level because the rains have persisted longer than usual as a result of the lingering effect of the climate phenomenon, La Niña, Langenhove said. The worst floods to hit Namibia in four decades have claimed 92 lives and could affect the food security of at least 500,000 people, mainly subsistence farmers in the flood-affected regions in the north, according to Dorkas Kapembe-Haiduwa, secretary of the Namibia Red Cross. The Kavango and Caprivi regions along the northern border are among the areas hardest hit.

According to reports from the Namibia Meteorological Services department, the northern central areas of the Namibia recorded more than 200 percent of their normal monthly total for February 2009. The Regional Remote Sensing Unit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) warned that problems could still be experienced in the low-lying areas of Caprivi, especially along the Zambezi, because of the much higher than average rains experienced in the first half of March. Namibia’s Emergency Management Unit said assessments were being conducted.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has appealed for US$1.27million to fund its relief operations in Namibia. Kapembe-Haiduwa said there was concern that the incidence of malaria, which is endemic in the flood-affected region, could rise.

Not a threat elsewhere

According to the SADC team, the rainfall season is drawing to a close and the Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe, and Cahora Bassa in Mozambique, were likely to absorb most of the floodwater from the upper Zambezi, “which would be a relief to Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique, but not to us”, said Langenhove.

The Zambezi River rises in the Kalene Hills of northwestern Zambia and flows northwards for about 30km before turning west and south to run through Angola for about 280km and then re-enters Zambia, flowing southwards through marshy plains. In southwestern Zambia the river becomes the border between Zambia and the eastern Caprivi Strip of Namibia for about 130km. An estimated 285,000 people were affected and 29 were killed in the Zambezi River basin in 2007, during the worst floods to hit Mozambique in six years.

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