Managing Floods and Droughts in East and Southern Africa: Mitigating the Effects of Global Warming

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Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa, grapples with the dual challenges of floods and droughts, which have profound impacts on its environment, economy, and society. According to data from the Zambia Meteorological Department, the frequency and intensity of these extreme weather events have shown a worrisome upward trend in recent years. A study conducted by the International Journal of Climatology in 2020 highlighted that Zambia’s vulnerability to floods has been exacerbated by factors such as deforestation, poor urban planning, and inadequate drainage systems.

Additionally, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) reported that droughts, driven by climate change and variability, have become increasingly severe, affecting crop yields and water availability. These findings underscore the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to mitigate the adverse effects of floods and droughts in Zambia, focusing on sustainable land management, climate-resilient infrastructure, and community-based disaster preparedness initiatives.

This serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to prioritize flood and drought management systems in the region. By implementing effective strategies to mitigate the impacts of global warming, we can protect communities, ensure food security, and safeguard the environment.

Flood Management

Floods pose a significant threat to vulnerable communities, causing loss of life, damaging infrastructure, and disrupting agricultural activities. To manage flood impacts effectively, it is crucial to invest in Early Warning Systems, floodplain mapping, and infrastructure development. By identifying high-risk areas and implementing appropriate measures such as flood-resistant housing, flood channels, and reservoirs, we can reduce the impact of floods on human lives and livelihoods.

“Building on the foundational work undertaken as part of Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA) on the Prototype of Flood Forecasting and early warning system for Zambezi River Basins, the International Water Management Institution (IWMI) led CGIAR Initiative on the Diversification in East and Southern Africa (better known as Ukama Ustawi) is fostering the application of flood model outputs into Flood Index Insurance applications in collaboration with Madisson Insurance Company and Pula. The flood hazard product in combination with the groundwork on vulnerability and exposure (such as the case with crop damage, number of households affected…etc), helps us to produce risk maps or flood index information. This helps us to contribute to the development of Flood Index Insurance products,” says Dr Yakob Umer, Regional Researcher at IWMI.

According to Dr Umer, as part of the Index Development for Ukama Ustawi, they met with stakeholders in Zambia, including but not limited to government institutions, private sector players, insurance sectors and the product developers, to lay the foundation on how to establish this Flood Index Insurance.

Part of the work entails bringing along all the stakeholders to fortify the climate risk resilient actions which strengthens the resiliency of communities that can withstand the current and future impacts of climate change. Flood Index Insurance work helps us in our efforts to build resilient communities which in turn also empower farmers on the ground. Dr Umer further asserts that the target is to work with communities to evaluate flood index products which are gender sensitive in an effort to foster inclusivity and bridge vulnerability challenges.

Drought Management

Conversely, extended droughts pose severe challenges to agricultural productivity, water availability, and food security. To address these issues, adopting drought-resistant crop varieties, implementing efficient irrigation systems, and promoting water conservation practices are essential. Additionally, diversifying livelihoods through income-generating activities like livestock rearing and non-agricultural enterprises can enhance resilience during drought periods.

Managing the impacts of floods and droughts requires an integrated approach that combines climate-resilient infrastructure development, sustainable land and water management, and community engagement. However, these efforts must be accompanied by a broader commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the underlying causes of global warming to fortify a more climate smart Africa where floods and droughts no longer threaten the well-being and prosperity of the people.

Phindiwe Nkosi, Communications and Knowledge Management Expert at IWMI

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