Urgent solutions needed to tame drought across region

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Millions of people are facing food shortages across the SADC regions as the El Nino-induced drought takes effect. This, therefore, calls for urgent measures by member countries to avert national catastrophes.

The region is definitely headed for famine, as the rains are scarce.  Normally, this time of the year rains would be falling in most parts of the region raising prospects for economic growth as most countries heavily rely on agriculture.

But since December last year, there has been scant rainfall throughout the region.  As we have reported in the past, there are now fears that a devastating drought could hit most countries in the region.

Climate experts who met in Gaborone, Botswana, in September last year had predicted that the region was likely to receive below normal rainfall from October to December this year and normal to above normal rains from January to March 2018.

The SADC climate scientists had also predicted that another drought and floods would hit some parts of the region this year.

Experts have in the past called for SADC member states to plan carefully and ensure that there were measures in place to deal with issues of drought, and security and disaster in the event of flash flooding.

We have also called for preparedness by member states to tame the perennial droughts.  The time for rain-fed agriculture is over and member states need to harness water for irrigation for sustainable agriculture.

We should have heeded warnings by climate experts who have predicted low rainfall in could lead to crop failure and devastating famine.

This week, the crop situation in Zimbabwe, which is SADC's food basket, was not looking good and if the rains do not fall in the next few days, this season will be a total disaster.

Now, this is very worrying and alarm bells should be sounded across the region so that authorities take proactive measures.

Most countries in the SADC region are heavily dependent on agriculture, and poor rains spell doom for prospects for growth.  This also means huge amounts of money would have to be channelled towards importing food, money that would otherwise have been channelled towards other needy areas like health, education and infrastructural development.

This is why we have always called upon leaders in the region to move away from over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture.  Climate change, of which the droughts are associated with, is real and the SADC region has been at the receiving end in recent years.

There is a need for massive investment in dams and irrigation infrastructure so that when the region is hit by such calamities, it can still be able to produce food for its peoples.

We believe the region can adequately plan for droughts if there is political will by governments to invest in dams and irrigation systems that would ensure countries do not have to wait for the rainy seasons but can plant crops year round. 

Examples abound elsewhere where arid countries have gone on to develop their agricultural systems such that they do not feel the effects of droughts. We have always maintained that if a country like Israel, which is largely desert, can develop its agriculture to a point of being a net exporter of food, what stops countries in Southern Africa from doing the same?

The region is endowed with good climate and has fairly large rivers, which could be dammed for agricultural purposes.  We see no reason why year in and year out, countries watch millions of cubic metres of water flowing to the Indian and Atlantic oceans, but sit and moan about poor rains.

We reiterate calls for political, business and agriculture experts across the region to think outside the box and stop relying on rain-fed agriculture.  We, therefore, call upon them to take proactive measures to tame the recurrent droughts.

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