Food shortages threaten as floods hit Southern Africa

By agency reporter
January 14, 2008

Extreme rainfall in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe has caused severe flooding with devastating consequences - including food shortages to come as farmers’ crops are washed away, warn international church and development bodies.

UK-based agency Christian Aid says its partners in the region are already active trying to save waterlogged crops, and distributing food and blankets to people who have had to evacuate their homes. But as downpours continue in many areas, the worst could be yet to come.

Flooding is an annual threat for poor farmers in this region, but it is unusual for the floods to be so bad, so early in the year.

Floods have forced tens of thousands from their homes in central Mozambique. Water levels in four rivers, including the Zambezi, have risen above critical levels and the government has declared a red alert.

Sofala and Zambezia province are among the worst affected areas. Here Christian Aid partner the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM) is working with people who lost their homes and crops in last year’s floods.

CCM has also helped these communities to map safe flood evacuation routes to higher ground. The danger now is that even some of those higher ‘safe areas’ are under threat from rising floodwaters.

A clean water and sanitation project is also being planned, to help prevent diseases such as cholera and malaria among flood-hit communities along the Zambezi River.

The floods have affected all nine of Zambia’s provinces, destroying roads, bridges and crops. The worst affected area is in the south. The Family Health Trust (FHT) reports that water points in Monze, Southern Province, have been completely submerged leaving communities with no access to clean water, and maize crops have been ruined by the rains.

FHT’s programme coordinator Mr Boniface said that though few in the farming communities where FHT work have lost everything they own, most have lost their supplies of food and are in great fear of disease. FHT’s local community networks are already providing blankets and food items to displaced families in the area.

Local partners are planning a coordinated emergency response that is likely to include the provision of clothing and blankets, temporary shelter materials, insecticide treated mosquito nets and water treatment supplies.

Meanwhile, according to Zimbabwe’s Met Office, December 2007 was the wettest month in 127 years. Although Southern Africa’s annual rainy season lasts until March, some areas, such as Lupane district, have already seen almost a year’s worth of rain.

Dabane Trust in Zimbabwe has been helping poor farmers in Lupane to improve farming techniques and grow more food, supported by Christian Aid and others.

But this season’s harvest may be poor, as fields have become waterlogged. Dabane Trust is now supplying farmers with fertiliser that absorbs excess water and so may help to save their crops.

With the support of the UN’s World Food Programme, Christian Care in Zimbabwe has distributed food parcels to more than 8,000 people who have been displaced by the floods.

In 2007 Christian Aid appealed for funds when severe floods affected nine countries from east to west all across central Africa. Now southern Africa has been affected by heavy rains. So far governments and local organisations are coping well with the crisis but the rains are expected to continue.

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