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MOZAMBIQUE: Weather Service Key to Flood Disaster Management

Isaiah Esipisu

NAIROBI, Apr 20 2010 (IPS) - Mozambique’s government learned some tough lessons from the devastating floods that hit the country a decade ago. Experts say the disaster management plans drawn up since are a model for other African countries.

The flooding in 2000 killed 700 people and displaced 4.5 million more. Since then, the government has increased the budgetary allocation for disaster management, put in place early warning systems, and established community-driven rescue systems.

When heavy flooding occurred again in the 2007-2008 rainy season, an enhanced level of preparedness is credited with reducing the number of people affected.

“Only 100,000 people were displaced from their homes, and nine individuals lost their lives. Among the dead, seven were swept by the floods, while two were killed by crocodiles,” said Dulce Chilundo, the director of the Emergency Operation Centre and the National Institute for Disaster Management in Mozambique.

“The meteorological services immediately embarked on a mapping program for all risk areas, where 10 to 15 individuals from every disaster risk areas were given proper training on rescue operations depending on the nature of natural disasters that usually affect that particular area,” added Chilundo.

Now the country is actively developing villages that are better planned and constructed to withstand seasonal flooding.

“Every year that there are no major disasters, we use the budgetary allocation to purchase land and resettle families living in the risky areas. Since 2006, we have relocated 120,000 families to safer areas, and the intervention is still going on,” said Chilundo.

“For relocation to succeed in Mozambique, the new homes on safer grounds are offered to the affected citizens as additional land,” said Chilundo.

Villagers retain ownership of their original land and usually continue to farm it, while living in the new settlement.

“However, some people still resist the permanent relocation of their residence,” said Chilundo.

The country has put in place early warning systems some of which are operated by community members.  For example, a Non-Governmental Organisation called Munich Re Foundation is working in partnership with ‘Mozambique flood warning’ project to provide early warning services along Búzi River.

The ‘Búzi Early Warning System’ works by taking daily measurements of rain fall at strategic points in the river basin. This is done by people nominated from the affected areas, and usually given specialised training.

In case of heavy rainfall or if they observe a significant rise in water level, the information is passed on to a central coordination point and then quickly spread through community radio broadcasting in local languages.

Similarly, if the reports indicate there has been widespread heavy rainfall, then the alarm is raised, and a signal of coloured flags is used to warn people of possible flooding. At this point, people living in risky areas are evacuated before the flood waters rise.

Proper planning for disasters by laying down of preparedness strategies and early warning systems is an important way for the continent can build resilience to the climate change challenges.

“We have to make use of the meteorological predictions in order to develop these preparedness strategies,” said Dr Abbas Gullet, the Secretary General – Kenya Red Cross Society.

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has developed a proposal to set up a regional flash flood warning system that would cover all affected countries within the region.

According to the proposal, cyclones that make landfall, as well as torrential rain inland can trigger flooding across the whole subregion. It gives an example of the widespread flooding caused by tropical cyclone Eline in 2000 over Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana and even Namibia.

“Even though the South African Weather Service (SAWS) has a weather radar network, and can issue warnings of potential heavy rain, a proper flash flood warning system that can warn the disaster management authorities and the communities at risk does not exist in the region,” reads the document.

In the wake of climate change due to global warming, areas over Mozambique’s eastern plateau experienced almost three times the usual January rainfall, leading to extensive flooding and flash flooding in the region.

“We appreciate that some countries like Mozambique and a few others have developed a strong collaboration between the meteorological services, hydrological services and disaster management teams. This is the route we want all the affected countries to take,” said Alhassane Adama Diallo, the Director General for the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development.

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