By Hanna Butler, IFRC
Rivers overflowing their banks across southern Africa have recently submerged communities and crops, but in central Zambia where no rivers flow, flooding has been the result of increased levels in the water table.
For one month, from mid-January on, the central province of Mumbwa experienced heavy rains causing the water table to rise to record levels. Falling rain could not be absorbed and instead overflowed onto the already saturated land, creating a flood which eroded topsoil and damaged anything on it.
Homes on the drenched land collapsed, leaving 1,500 people homeless and two dead. Crops were submerged and stored food was destroyed.
Stanley Ndhlovu, disaster management coordinator with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), says people were relocated to temporary camps, where although the situation is strained, they are rallying together to support each other. “They formed a committee to manage the camps and to look after each other and keep the camp safe,” says Ndhlovu. “An elderly couple, injured when their house collapsed on them, spent a few weeks in hospital and now they are being looked after by the community in the camp.”
The Zambian Red Cross Society, supported by the IFRC, has been assisting families in need since the onset of the flooding by supplying tents, mosquito nets, food and purifying the water supply.
There are no latrines in the camp, so maintaining sanitation and hygiene is a huge challenge says Ndhlovu. “50 volunteers have been trained to teach people ways to stay healthy, as diarrhoea is on the rise. There is a lot of stagnant water which is attracting malaria-carrying mosquitoes; and the disease is already making its presence felt in the camp.”
The camps are only a temporary home, so when families return to their villages to rebuild in a few months, the National Society will support them through the provision of building materials and tools. Staff and volunteers will also closely monitor the food situation as the floods came at the end of the harvest season and destroyed most of the supplies people had preserved for the year ahead. With many other countries in southern Africa already feeling the bite of recurring hunger, it is a situation Zambia hopes to avoid.