What SADC states must do to prepare for El Nino

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By Charity Ruzvidzo

Climate and weather experts have called on SADC countries to brace up their risk management mechanisms  as weather forecasts predict an El Nino-induced drought during the forthcoming season.

Last week, the Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) forecast high chances of normal to below normal rainfall throughout the coming season in the region.

In the last century, Southern Africa has endured year-on-year changes in climate leading to severe droughts and disturbances in the ecosystem.

According to weather experts, most economies in SADC are driven by rain-fed agriculture and livestock production and are thus vulnerable to the effects of droughts.

Principal climate researcher at Zimbabwe's Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Elisha Moyo, said below normal and erratic rainfall activities should be promoted in preparation for the erratic rains anticipated in the 2018/19 season.

“In the agricultural sectors, there is a need to plant drought tolerant crops and short season varieties, activating national drought preparedness programming, reviving irrigation infrastructure, reducing post-harvest losses on the current grain reserves, moisture conserving farming practices, insurance for tobacco farmers, enhancing water harvesting techniques and planning for possible drought relief,” he said.

Moyo said in the power generation sector, there was a need for optimal use of water for power generation, planning alternatives to hydro-power production and possible reduced inflows for mini hydros.

Droughts are usually rampant across the region during an El Nino weather phenomemon, raising the need for adequate water supply.

According to Moyo there is a need for water resource management for both industrial and domestic use.

He said plans for a possible drought, flooding, tropical cyclones, increased hailstorms and heat-stress related impacts must be made ahead of the 2018/2019 rainfall season.

In the health sector, the climate expert said there was a need to activate the necessary health early warning systems in view of the expected temperature rises, flooding, deteriorating water quality and supply situation.

Weather experts, however, reiterated that although most El Nino years have been associated with below-normal rainfall, the impact of El Nino is often reduced by the sufficient groundwater and soil moisture content carried over from previous seasons.

This means not all countries experience El Nino induced droughts.

The Zimbabwe department of civil protection acting director, Sibusisiwe Ndlovu, said the department has strategies set aside in the unfortunate case of a drought.

 “We are going to scale up education and awareness on hazards related to the 2018/2019 rainfall season. We will also scale up early recovery interventions and conduct incident specific lessons learned to enhance preparedness.

“The Civil Protection Unit will conduct district and localised dissemination of forecast and attendant response planning,” she said.

Droughts cause water shortages, crop failure, food insecurity, famine, energy shortages, unemployment, outbreaks of diseases and livestock and human deaths.

During the 2015/16 agricultural season, countries like Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland declared national drought emergencies.

Most of these countries had high number of food insecure people and this increased malnutrition cases, according to the World Health Organisation.

Mozambique and South Africa, however, declared partial disasters in the 2015/16 season.

A report compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) titled “Towards effective drought preparedness in the SADC region”, states that a number of issues affect drought preparedness in Africa.

“Countries should move from crisis management to risk management. In drought, risk management is the concept and practice to avoid, lessen or transfer the adverse effects of drought hazards and the potential impacts of disaster through activities and measures for prevention, mitigation and preparedness.

“To achieve risk management, credible data is needed to underpin sector advocacy, stimulate political commitment, inform decision-making and trigger well-placed investments towards optimum health, environment and economic gains. Knowledge brokers are key to communicating scientific findings to decision-makers, and to developing tools and mechanisms to translate science into practical solutions,” reads the report.

Climate experts have urged heads of states in the region to mitigate the effects of El Nino by implementing disaster risk management strategies.

 

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