Friday, October 28, 2016

SADC El Nino: 'Don’t Despair, Rains Are Coming'
Sifelani Tsiko Syndication Writer
Zimbabwe Herald

Farmers should not despair and should continue with land preparations for the 2016-2017 cropping season despite the late onset of rains, weather expert and director of the Meteorological Services Department, Dr Amos Makarau says. He told journalists on the sidelines of a regional training course on the use of satellites for drought monitoring and agriculture meteorological applications that farmers should not lose hope despite the prolonged drought and late onset of rains.

“Rains have been a little late this year due to a prolonged drought, but farmers should not despair as our predictions for good rains this year still stand,” he said. “The moisture is building up and we expect rains in November. People should not worry much, but continue with their land preparation activities.”

Most areas have received low and erratic rains in the past few weeks drowning “rain-desperate” farmers into despair. After the first hints of La Niña from the regional experts, farmers across Zimbabwe and the entire region believed that the brunt of the rain would start to occur from early in October.

But so far this season, the opposite has happened. “We still stand by our predictions and for the entire region, we don’t expect a drought,” said Dr Makarau. “We are going to have better rains this season and there is no need for people to worry.”

In August, this year, regional climate experts forecast that the approaching rainy season, which starts in October, would be normal to wetter than normal in Zimbabwe and most other Sadc countries.

The news brought excitement to a region in the middle of one of the worst droughts in decades that has wilted crops, decimated livestock, slowed economic growth and driven food prices higher in the past season.

The experts said from October 2016 to March 2017, SADC countries are likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall bringing relief to this region which relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture.

“However, northern-most Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) northern Angola, southern-most of Tanzania, northern Mozambique, the islands states of Seychelles and eastern-most Madagascar are more likely to receive normal to below-normal rainfall most of the season,” read part of the report.

Sadc member states have declared this year’s El-Nino-induced drought a regional disaster, paving the way for donor agencies to assist in mobilising US$2,8 billion required for food aid for millions of people facing hunger.

Drought has left up to 40 million people in need of food assistance across the region, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Out of this, 23 million require immediate assistance.

Zimbabwe is one of the worst affected countries by the driest year in decades facing Southern Africa – including Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa. The UN’s World Food Programme said about 16 million people in Southern Africa are facing hunger due to poor harvests in 2015, caused by El Nino weather conditions.

The impact of the drought that swept across the Sadc region in the past two years has been felt across all sectors including agriculture, food and nutrition security, tourism, energy, health, water and sanitation and education.

A majority of small-scale farmers are struggling to produce enough food to feed their families owing to the drought that ravaged most parts of Zimbabwe. Dam levels have dropped to their worst levels in decades while pasture and water scarcity has decimated 643 000 livestock with an estimated value of up to US$1,9 billion.

SADC climate experts say the 2016-2017 cropping season which is likely to shift from the dreaded warmer-than-average weather pattern – El Niño – which caused a devastating drought in the entire sub-region.

Earlier this year, Sadc climate experts said the El Nino weather pattern which caused drought in Southern Africa and other parts of the world in the 2015-16 cropping season was now breaking into a neutral phase that could degenerate into its opposite phenomenon – La Nina – creating a possibility of heavy rainfall and flooding in the 2016-2017 cropping season.

Experts say La Nina is the opposite condition of El Nino and while the latter causes high temperatures and dry spells, the former is characterised by heavy rainfall, floods and violent storms.

The shift to the La Niña event has buoyed hopes for some farmers who hope that the better rainfall and climate ­conditions in the months ahead could significantly boost yields, water availability and pasture for livestock.

“The 2015-2016 season was bad for Zimbabwe and the entire Sadc region. Sadc countries declared the drought a state of disaster and we need to learn from this experience the significance weather forecasting and all the necessary tools such as satellite in disaster preparedness and management,” said Dr Makarau.

“We are running this training together with the World Meteorological Organisation to help strengthen our technical capacity on satellite use and drought monitoring. “This is to add value to our tools for weather forecasting.” He expressed concern that most African countries were still taking weather forecasting for granted something which had dire consequences for economies.

“Many countries have been taking weather for granted and they ought to be prepared,” the weather expert said. “Training on satellite use is a strategic move. Droughts are becoming more frequent and prolonged and we need to use satellites to monitor droughts in southern Africa.”

Sadc Climate Service Centre regional co-ordinator Bradwell Garanganga said it was important to strengthen national and regional capabilities in the area of remote sensing, agro-meteorology and GIS.

This, he said, was critical for early warning for food security, natural resources and disaster management. “Retooling the meteorological community and the agricultural community is quite important for the region,” he said. “It’s critical that our experts are able to monitor crop, vegetation and weather developments during the crop growing period using satellite images and GIS techniques.

“This enhances the development and maintenance of our databases-satellite images, maps and associated data.”

– Zimpapers Syndication Services.

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