January 25, 2008

Harvest hopes fade due to heavy rains

Torrential rains have drowned Zambia's hopes of a fourth consecutive bumper maize harvest and there is still no sign that the rain will ease off as the country comes to grips with the extent of the damage. Heavy downpours that began in the last week of November 2007 have swamped large areas along the banks the swollen Magoye River, washing away infrastructure and flooding many hectares of agricultural land. Southern Province was hardest hit with six people killed and thousands fleeing from their flooded homes.
The latest situation report on the floods in southern Africa, released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said national authorities in the region estimated that more than 16.600 people have been affected since October 2007.
Although Zambia's Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit [DMMU] is yet to put a figure on the extent of the damage, people in flooded communities say the losses are massive. Initial assessments in six districts of Southern Province by the Zambia Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZVAC), estimated that the crop losses of maize, millet and sorghum would range between 40 percent and 50 percent. The OCHA report noted, "Since this is the lean period, many households have already started to run out of food stock." A year ago Zambia experienced widespread flooding in many of the same areas but still managed to produce a surplus of 250.000 tonnes of maize above its annual consumption of 1.2 million tonnes. Much of that surplus came from the productive central region, which was not spared this year.
Concern is growing that flooding could worsen in the coming weeks: precipitation forecasts by the National Centre for Environmental Predictions indicate increased rainfall in the southern parts of the country in the next ten days. The authorities have indicated that the necessary resources to respond to the crisis are available. "I am assuring the nation that we have currently got 450.000 metric tonnes of maize in store, of which 150.000 tonnes belong to strategic reserves, while 50.000 tonnes is for the DMMU to draw from anytime, as they require. But after the harvest, we may have a few problems because the yields may most likely not be as favourable as they were last year," said Costain Chilala, chair of the Food Reserve Agency board. (Rts)

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