Africa, Environment, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT: El Nino Splits Zambia into Flood and Drought Zones

Lewis Mwanangombe

LUSAKA, Mar 19 1998 (IPS) - The El Nino phenomenon that has been sweeping the world has left farmers in parts of Zambia mourning for their waterlogged fields while those elsewhere in the country are in tears because their plots have been parched by drought.

The devastation caused by El Nino, a warm ocean current that disrupts weather patterns, prompted the national assembly to adjourn for 10 days on Mar. 13 to allow parliamentarians to travel to their constituencies and assess the situation there.

The adjournment followed a trip by speaker Christon Tembo, who is also the country’s vice-president, to the flood-hit North- western, Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern provinces and the drought-stricken Western, Central, Eastern and Southern provinces.

Tembo said parliament would adjourn until Mar. 24 so that parliamentarians can report accurately on what is happening in their areas. According to Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Edith Nawakwi, the government will also carry out its own assessment.

Nawakwi said that in addition to registering washed out roads and bridges, collapsed houses and the devastation to farmland, the government also wants to find out what support rural communities need as regards seeds and fertilisers for the planting season due at the end of this year.

Indications are that this is the first time Zambia has suffered so much from inclement weather. Thirty-four districts with an estimated population of 886,111 now need help.

Earlier estimates by the government’s Localised Needs Assessment (LNA) programme, which falls under the Vice-President’s office, had identified 29 districts as needing relief food amounting to 28,000 tonnes for a target population of about 788,611 up to the end of this month.

Building materials are also required: Tembo discovered during his tour that close to 1,500 huts had been reduced to rubble in villages and slums in and around the North-Western Province capital of Solwezi.

The province’s permanent secretary, Ronald Mukuma, reported that many bridges had been washed away by flood waters. The government, he added, has released 15 million kwacha (just under 9,000 U.S. dollars) for temporary repairs to three bridges here, while quilts, clothes and 41 tents have been provided for people whose houses had collapsed.

Damage to bridges has left more than 45,000 villagers marooned and the government was reported to be planning to airlift some 18 tonnes of food to them.

Incessant rains have continued to wash away bridges in the Luapula province, which has most of Zambia’s swamps, natural lakes and lagoons. According to Tembo, more than 2,000 houses have collapsed in the province, while rice, cassava and maize fields have been submerged.

Provincial Permanent Secretary Maybin Mubanga said the situation was desperate among villagers and that in some areas such as the Chienge and Mununga districts, flood waters now flow freely where roads once existed.

In the copper mining town of Kitwe, located in the relatively industrialised Copperbelt region, more than 72 mud-walled houses crumbled like soggy biscuits while household goods were swept away in shanties located a mere 300 metres from the Kafue river, which burst its banks over the weekend.

One victim, Chanda Mulenga, said the flood caught them unawares as it occurred at night as a result of a heavy downpour. The following morning they were lucky to escape with their lives while the floodwaters swept away all his possessions, including clothes and a cherished transistor radio, he added.

The deputy resident representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Chief Omoete Oyaide, confirmed that Zambia was facing an extraordinary situation as El Nino, had cut the country into two distinct flood and drought areas.

Chief Oyaide said the UN was very concerned about the situation and its impact on rural Zambians, which was why it was now studying the situation with a view to offering help.

The World Food Programme (WFP), for its part, has donated 489 metric tonnes of food — mainly maize flour, high-energy protein supplements and vegetable oil — and tools worth 300,000 U.S. dollars to Zambia.

The tools, which include shovels, spades, picks, rakes, wheelbarrows and buckets, are to be used in rebuilding houses, digging pit latrines and repairing drainage systems destroyed by floods, according to WFP country director, Bai Bojang. More than 50,000 persons are expected to benefit from that package.

World Vision Zambia, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has pledged to provide food for another 17,500 people.

However, the Zambia Shanty Compounds and Sustainable Development Organisation, another NGO, estimates that 600,000 persons in the Luangwa valley in the far north are threatened with starvation.

While some areas have too much water, others have too little, including the Southern province, whose permanent secretary, Sylvester Mpishi, has called on the government to build dams for the drought stricken region.

So has Nanty Simango, a member of the district council of Kazungula, on the border with Botswana. He said only pragmatic water conservation measures could save his district from destruction since five areas there are affected by a terrible drought that has reduced them to arid wastes.

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