SADC braces for another drought, floods …as climate experts release regional forecast

By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone – Climate experts have warned Southern African countries to brace for another drought spell as the region is expected to receive below normal rainfall from October to November this year and normal to above normal rains from January to March 2018.

The SADC climate scientists made the warning at the recent SADC 2017/2018 Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) in Gaborone, Botswana, where they predicted that the region would be hit by another drought and floods this year.

Some parts of the region are still reeling from a drought that hit the region in 2016.

According to SADC experts, the first phase of below normal to normal rains could result in some countries suffering a devastating drought while the second phase could result in other member states facing a humanitarian disaster due to floods caused by abnormal rains.

Therefore, they said this calls for member states to plan carefully and ensure that there were measures in place to deal with issues of security and disaster in the event of flash flooding.

Calling for the forecast to be broken down to national level for each member state by their departments of meteorology, SADC climate service centre coordinator Dr Nsala Faka said “generally, forecast is going to be normal to below normal for the first part of the season”.

He added that “the bulk of Southern African Development Community (SADC) is likely to receive normal to below-normal rainfall for most of the period October to December (OND) 2017 and normal to above-normal rainfall for the January to March (JFM) 2018”.   

Faka said northernmost Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), northern Tanzania, the islands states, eastern-most Madagascar and the south-eastern mainland SADC region were likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall throughout the 2017/18 rainy season.

He observed that the region experienced drought in the 2015/16 season but a warning had been issued six months prior to commencement of the farming season.

“With the trend of normal to above normal rainfall, we can expect some areas to receive more rains which can lead to flooding,” he said, urging government departments and farmers to contact their local meteorology officers for tailored products.

“The regional model can capture the local level outlook but it gives global outlook for planning purposes,” he said.

Acting director of infrastructure at SADC secretariat Phera Ramoeli said they remained alive to the fact that despite the progress achieved so far, the SADC region is still far from fully applying early warnings of adverse weather conditions necessary to enable adequate preparation to avert their negative effects on communities.

“There is, therefore, need to work together at regional and global levels to address, among others, issues relating to early warning.

It is important for all the climate-sensitive sectors to continuously engage with NMHSs to see how to produce user-tailored products and results,” he said.

Ramoeli called on national meteorological and hydrological services in the SADC region to strengthen their capacities in order to generate more accurate and usable seasonal climate outlooks.

“This requires among other things, participation by national meteorological and/or hydrological services and climate services centre in regional and international programmes, in particular those of WMOs and other sister climate centre. This will lead to the much needed technology transfer,” he said. Head of the resilience hub at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Lewis Hove, said that the information SARCOF comes up with should help farmers in terms of their preparedness and resilience against threats.

He said that about 70% of the SADC population depends on agriculture for food security and the outcomes of the forum must be tailor-made to the needs of the farmers so they could use the information to plan better.

“Given the current weather extremes coming one after the other, farmers could be confused and as such, there is need to provide them with adequate, accurate information on a timely basis,” he said.

Blessing Siwela, from SADC Disaster Risk Unit, said there was lack of appreciation of the strategic and critical roles of meteorological contributions to national socio-economic developments in the region.

He also said there was inadequate financial resources allocated to essential activities, including for prevention and mitigation activities as well as human resources gaps, evidenced by the lack of national and regional response teams and weaknesses in national disaster management authorities and inadequate technical expertise.

Therefore, he said there was a need to advocate for early action and to demonstrate benefits of applying early warning information to policy makers and more research on how that can be beneficial  to the economy.

Botswana’s deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Thabang Botshoma, said the SADC region moved from one extremely dry season to a wet season in the period 2016/2017, though the eastern part of the region had below normal rains. He added that parts of Western Cape in South Africa were still experiencing droughts.

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