Southern Africa: Drought Plans, 1/2/98

Southern Africa: Drought Plans, 1/2/98

Southern Africa: Drought Plans
Date distributed (ymd): 980102
Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Southern Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a background story from the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre on preparations to reduce the impact of the drought expected to follow the El Nino warming of the south Pacific Ocean.Despite the preparations, additional food deficits are expected, as well as reductions in previously anticipated economic growth rates.

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Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC)
P O Box 5690, Harare, Zimbabwe
Tel: 263-4-738694/5/6; Fax: 738693
Internet Address:


APIC Note: For additional updates and background on El Nino and its impact in Africa, including reports from Southern African regional meetings, see the links page at



by Caiphas Chimhete

November 13, 1997

As El Nino, a weather phenomenon which often causes drought in southern Africa becomes more evident, the region's countries are moving quickly to put measures in place to reduce its impact.

"Drought preparedness is very high in most countries of the region although it differs in emphasis. Swaziland appears to be the most prepared country, having advised its farmers to grow drought resistant crops, reduce and cull livestock and to store properly their current food stocks", says Roger Buckland, technical advisor to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Food Security Programme.

Ahead of the El Nino phenomenon, the cabinet of Namibia has recently approved the establishment of an interministerial committee comprising eight government agencies to work on ways to minimise the effects of the expected drought.

Buckland said SADC is closely watching the region's food and livestock security, health infrastructure and water situation.

The community has also formed a task force under the Food Security, Technical and Administrative Unit specifically to monitor weather conditions.

The task force comprises SADC's Regional Early Warning Unit, the Regional Remote Sensing Project, the Drought Monitoring Centre and the Famine Early Warning System Project all based in Harare.

Buckland said SADC is also in the process of establishing a regional drought fund from which affected member countries could borrow. Consultations with the World Bank and other donor agencies are in progress.

The drought fund, operating as an export-import guarantee scheme, will enable affected countries to borrow and repay within a stipulated time frame.The early warning unit has also issued an alert so member-countries can plan for the possibility of a drought and to consider ways of mitigating the effects of poor rainfall.

The unit says other actions which SADC countries could take include reviewing export liabilities for the current stocks, logistics of alternative seed supply for farmers, preservation of existing surface water supplies and maintenance of available irrigation equipment.

The shifting ocean currents in the Pacific could unleash weather havoc over half the world, ranging from drought in southern Africa, southeast Asia and Australia to massive flooding in Central and South America.

El Nino (Spanish for Christ-child) which has been brewing across a vast stretch of the tropical Pacific for several months has already been blamed for the current unprecedented weather patterns in southern Africa which could signal the worst drought in history.

While scientists still debate the details of the recurring factor, the five-to-six degree warming of a swath of the Pacific the size of southern Africa could wreak havoc on a vast scale, worse than ever before.

Named by 16th century Peruvian fishermen who noticed a periodical warming of the ocean around Christmas time, El Nino creates a kind of warm, shallow plateau of water above rest of the colder ocean. This warming effect is picked up by winds that blow across the ocean altering the weather patterns.

Although this occurs in the Eastern Pacific it doesn't take long for a few ill winds to cover more than 60 percent of the planet's surface. Among the disasters predicted by meteorologists are landslides, flash floods, droughts and crop failures.

The worst El Nino-induced drought occurred in 1982 and is estimated to have caused between US$8 and US$15 billion damage world-wide. In 1991 a smaller, but nonetheless drastic, Pacific warming caused the worst drought to date in southern Africa which decimated national economies, caused severe crop loss and consequent famine, killed off some cattle herds and left SADC nations reeling.

Scientists are noting changes in the El Nino factor. It used to occur in varying degrees of severity approximately every five years, but in the 1990s several have appeared in a row -- a hint, at least, that global warming may play an important factor in the frequency and severity of El Nino.

Meteorologists say they need far more money to research the phenomena, in order to forecast its effects but one thing is clear, the Pacific Ocean temperatures in July were the highest in 150 years, which is when data collection began.

Regional weather pattern changes are already visiblewith colder than normal weather in October, sudden storms and uncertain rainfall. Sometimes known as the "suicide month" because October normally has the year's highest temperatures in southern Africa, this year people are shivering in winter-like temperatures.

Forecasters are cautious, still uncertain of the length and severity of the El Nino episode. However, they do say the weather patterns so far are consistent with a severe and lengthy -- well into 1998 -- El Nino making the inevitability of a severe drought extremely high in most areas of SADC, possibly lasting for two successive years.

Reginald Mugwara, coordinator of SADC food security sector, says the region is better prepared than in 1992. Nations have already started taking safety measures.

In Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe major dams are currently about 91 percent full. These countries have started water saving measures although dam levels are said to be satisfactory. "Generally speaking, water bodies are still full and rivers are flowing because the water-table is also still high. The impact of the drought will be felt during the next season if it does not rain," said Buckland.

Although some countries in southern Africa have sufficient food stocks to last the season, others will need to import to meet their national demand. Current assessments indicate a regional cereal availability of 25.51 million tonnes, which is insufficient to meet a revised regional requirement of 26.85 million tonnes.

This leaves a deficit of 1.33 million tonnes, lower than the 2.23 million tonnes predicted in May but lower than the 1.34 million tonnes surplus last year.

Economists say that the prevalence of El Nino in the region could reduce local investment capital available, and scare off potential foreign investors who would not want to risk business ventures if stock markets nose-dive.

Robert Watson, director of the World Bank's environment department said El Nino could be a determining factor in the gross domestic product (GDP) growth of countries that are not prepared for crop losses and flooding.

In South Africa, the impending drought could cause a loss of between 0.4 percent and 1.0 percent in economic growth next year. The decline in growth could cause significant suffering among poor South Africans who constitute about the three-quarters of the country's population.

A poll of leading economists in the country by Reuters news agency reveals that the average forecast for the rise in real GDP in the coming year has now been trimmed from 3.1 percent recorded in June to 3.0 percent now. During the 1991-92 drought agriculture in South Africa went down by about R1.2 billion.

The Zimbabwe stock exchange has been recording a downward trend recently because of concerns about the El Nino. During the 1991-92 drought, the country's stock market declined 62 percent, and GDP 11 percent. Economists say the decline in GDP could be worse this coming season.

Experts from the Mozambican Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries met in Maputo recently to discuss preventive measures against the risk of drought in the southern region of the country.

According to Custodio Mucavele of the National Rural Extension Directorate, the ministry is advising people in the vulnerable provinces to plant their crops on low-lying ground which retain moisture for longer periods.

The Zambian Early Warning Unit has started preparing pamphlets to explain El Nino and provide advice on the best farming methods to cope with drought.

The unit encourages farmers to plant early-maturing and drought resistant crops and improve farm storage in case of inadequate rains. The best drought-resistant crops are sorghum and millet. Maize, rice and wheat, preferred by most farmers, are more susceptible.Botswana has also formed an Inter-Ministerial Drought Assessment Committee to assess the extent to which the drought would affect the country. President Sir Ketumile Masire said the government was uncertain as to how the drought would impact the country and the committee would decide how much food, grazing land funds and other logistics would be needed to cushion its effects.

Regional research efforts should be directed at the development of suitable agricultural technologies such as irrigation schemes to ensure that the region produces enough food during drought years. Research has shown that there is need for a strong pro-active, rational, cost-effective and long-term approach to cope with droughts rather than perpetuation of crisis management.(SARDC)


From: Message-Id: <> Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 14:30:05 -0500 Subject: Southern Africa: Drought Plans

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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