Southern African News Features                                           SANF 12 No 8, February 2012

More flood threats for southern Africa

by Joseph Ngwawi

Southern Africa should brace for more heavy rains and possible flooding until the end of the 2011/12 season as weather experts warn of more approaching tropical cyclones that could pummel the eastern part of the region between February and April.

Despite a late start to the season, most of southern Africa has received heavy rains since late December 2011, resulting in flooding in several countries.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) weather experts have predicted normal to above-normal rains for most of the region from January to the end of the season largely because of the continuing effects of the 2011 La Nina phenomenon.

This is the opposite condition to El Ninő, caused by a warming of waters in the western Pacific Ocean that impacts on the weather over a quarter of the earth’s surface, bringing drought to southern Africa.

According to the latest update from the SADC Climate Services Centre published in February, more heavy rains are forecast during the coming two months, particularly along the eastern part of the region.

“The February to April 2012 rainfall projections for most of SADC including the island states are still for persistent heavy rains. However, portions with greater chances of normal to above-normal are confined more across the eastern portions of the region,” the centre said.

It said while tropical cyclone Giovanna, which had threatened to bring heavy rains and flooding to low-lying areas along the eastern coast of the region, had now changed course and was no longer a threat for mainland SADC countries, it was still a threat over southern Madagascar.

Two other tropical cyclones are developing east of Mauritius headed towards southern Africa and could make landfall during the coming month, the weather experts warned.

“As tropical cyclone Giovanna has re-curved southeast-wards off Madagascar, another series of tropical cyclones is evolving over the Indian Ocean well east of Mauritius, and trundling erratically toward the region,” the experts said.
There is still uncertainty as to the exact track and intensity of these tropical storms as they approach the region. The region has already been pounded by heavy rains since a tropical depression hit Mozambique in January, resulting in two powerful storms, Tropical Cyclone Funso and Tropical Depression Dando, that caused flooding in coastal regions.

Officials say flooding from the two storm systems claimed at least 40 lives and displaced several thousands in Mozambique. Major highways between the capital, Maputo, and northern parts of the country were destroyed, raising fears of food shortages in affected areas.

The number of people directly affected by the torrential rains, high winds and flooding brought by the two storm systems is estimated at 119,000, according to the Mozambique news agency, AIM.

Other SADC countries that also experienced flooding this year include Angola and South Africa. Most countries in the region have activated contingency plans to mitigate against the impact of floods.

Mozambique began releasing water from the Cahora Bassa Dam on the Zambezi last year with people living along the lower Zambezi basin and in the Buzi, Save and Pungue basins being relocated. The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), a body set up by Zambia and Zimbabwe to manage Kariba Dam, was forced to open the spillway gates of Lake Kariba early to release pressure on the dam wall. The gates, which are usually opened in early February, were opened on 3 January while people living downstream were advised to evacuate their homes.

Namibia has prepositioned essential commodities and relief tools as part of their contingency plans, especially in the Caprivi Region, which is prone to floods. Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region.

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SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

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