"The latest that we have now is actually that a great many parts of the sub-region will experience quite substantial rainfall," Bradwell Garanganga, climate expert with the Drought Monitoring Centre (DMC) - a project of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - told IRIN on Tuesday. "The rainfall pattern is from normal to above normal rain ... but there will be a lot of variation," he said.
The variation in rainfall across the region, combined with various other factors, could lead to severe flooding in some areas, according to a recent report circulated by SADC's Regional Remote Sensing Unit (RRSU) and USAID's FEWS NET.
According to the report released on 19 December, called the Regional Flood Watch, pre-rainy season reports indicated that most dams in the region were already between 75-100 percent full. "This is exacerbated by the soil saturation levels which have also been reported as high, as a result of rainfall patterns over the past two rainy seasons.
"This situation raises concern, as the probability for flooding is relatively high given the relatively high levels of rainfall to date, and the forecast for above normal rains in most areas in the months ahead," the report said.
Asked whether rainfall figures were expected to be as high as last year, Garanganga said: "On balance no. We are expecting a little lees rain than the last two years. However, rainfall has a trend not to be uniform, so you may in fact have an area that might experience a deluge. That is a distinct possibility."
According to the report, relatively heavy rains in the Limpopo and Umbelizi river catchment areas of Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland since October had consequences downstream, where rivers had approached the alert level. However, no serious damage had been reported downstream, it added.
It said normal rainfall was forecast for the entire Limpopo basin upstream from Mozambique, "which could ease the threat of flooding this season". In contrast, however, much of the upper Zambesi basin fell within areas where there was an enhanced probability of above normal rains, according to the report.
"The forecast is favourable from an agricultural point of view, although rainfall variability within the three-month forecast period (from December to February) must be closely monitored," the report warned.
Dr Thuthula Balfour, SADC health sector co-ordinator, told IRIN on Tuesday it would be prudent for all health authorities and non-governmental agencies in the region to include cholera-awareness programmes in their plans. "It is expected, at this time of year, that the cases will rise," she said, adding some programmes should already be in place.
Meanwhile, new Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has renewed appeals to the international community for relief food to avert hunger. An AFP report quoted Mwanawasa as saying on Monday that last year's excessive rains had left the country with a "critical maize shortage".
"My administration has come into office to inherit a critical maize shortage resulting from the damage to our crop last agricultural season when we had excessive rains," Mwanawasa told his first news conference. He said his government was doing everything possible to maintain the steady flow of the staple maize.
To this end, The Times of Zambia reported on Monday, the government had ordered Copperbelt millers to reduce their mealie meal prices with immediate effect as most people could not afford the inflated price of K50,000 (about US $13) per 25 kg bag. The government has argued for the price to be halved, saying that most millers bought maize at government subsidised prices anyway.
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