Madagascar + 4 more

Southern Africa: Extreme weather threatens over a million people

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 5 April 2007 (IRIN) - Following months of erratic weather local authorities and aid agencies warn they are stretched beyond capacity in Southern Africa, where unusually heavy rains, a string of cyclones, severe flooding and extreme drought continue to threaten the lives of over a million people.

Communities in Madagascar, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia are struggling to recover. "The region has been exceptionally hard hit this year. The rains were early and heavier than usual and there have been more cyclones in a shorter period than in recent memory, in particular in Madagascar," Kelly David, head the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Southern African regional office, told IRIN.

"As a result, close to one million people in the region have been either displaced by flooding or lost their crops will face food shortages within a matter of months," she added.

"The rate of HIV/AIDS infection, the number of orphaned and vulnerable children, and the lack of social welfare nets stretch governments and communities, and make it difficult to rebound from natural disasters," she warned.

"The governments in the region have been the first and primary responders, but it is easy to see how the cumulative effect of multiple disasters - floods and cyclones, and in some countries drought - have exhausted emergency reserves. This is why the international community is now being called upon to assist governments in their response in some places," David added.

In the most recent disaster, cyclone Jaya tore across northern Madagascar on Tuesday and Wednesday leaving three dead before weakening and dissipating in the Mozambique Channel. Jaya was the sixth mayor cyclone to hit the Indian Ocean Island since December. By the end of March, Cyclones Bondo, Clovis, Gamede, Favio and Indlala had already brought widespread flooding, displacement, and crop damage.

The consequences of Jaya are currently being assessed, but anticipations are that the destruction will compound humanitarian needs.

Madagascar's arid south is currently facing a severe drought which has brought food insecurity and malnutrition. Cumulatively 450,000 people have been affected and "without additional assistance to save lives and bolster early recovery efforts, the Malagasy people will continue to struggle to obtain shelter, food, potable water, and health care," according to an OCHA statement released on Thursday. Over half of the recently launched US$ 9.6 million appeal for assistance remains unfunded, it added.

"We are overstretched in terms of human capacity and financial resources," Dusan Zupka, the Senior Emergency Coordination Officer assigned to Madagascar by OCHA in Geneva, told IRIN on Monday

Natural disasters have also destroyed parts of Mozambique where flooding brought on by heavy rains caused the Zambezi River to burst its banks in early February affecting an estimated 285,000 people. Cyclone Favio then crashed into the central Inhambane and Sofala Provinces at the end of February affecting an additional 150,000 people.

"While the Government of Mozambique prioritised the allocation of funds for disaster response to the floods and cyclone emergencies, national resources were not sufficient to meet the humanitarian needs of the affected populations," according to OCHA.

"One of the reasons why the floods have had such a devastating impact is because they affect the most vulnerable people. Subsistence farmers, fishermen, traders-they all have little savings or community resources on which to rely. In some areas of Madagascar and Mozambique, these were the same people who suffered from floods and cyclones in 2001 and 2004," Davis commented.

In Zambia excessive rainfall caused widespread flooding when the Zambezi, Kafue and Luangwa Rivers over spilled in February. Next to displacing thousands, crops, houses and public infrastructure were destroyed. "An estimated 295,000 people were directly affected by the floods and will require assistance in the rehabilitation of their houses, latrines, water wells, schools, clinics, roads and other infrastructure over the next year," the OCHA report said.

Current heavy rainfall and flooding in Angola displaced 30,000 people, according to official figures, and aid agencies warn the contamination of water sources and increases in water-borne diseases and malaria pose additional threats to vulnerable populations. The cholera outbreak in Angola - ongoing since January 2006 - "has flared up again - and is again affecting thousands of people each month," OCHA said.

In Namibia water levels are still keeping thousands in camps after flooding in the northern Caprivi region in early March, and aid agencies warn it could take months before displaced residents can return home. "Water has been receding, but not enough for people to start going back to their homes," Tapiwa Gomo, Regional Information Officer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, told IRIN. The flooding displaced a estimated 15,000 people.

"With global warming, we can expect to see more of the same in coming years, that is increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms, and adverse weather. Governments and the international community have to be even better prepared for them, which requires that more time and money be spent on prevention and preparedness activities. This needs to be our primary focus in the coming year," David warned.