Thursday, January 17, 2008

Disastrous flood crisis

Disastrous flood crisis
By Editor
Thursday January 17, 2008 [03:00]

There is a disastrous flood crisis in Zambia which needs to be brought to the attention of the international community in a clear way. The current seasonal rains – intensified by La Nina current in the Pacific – has pushed our rivers to their dangerous level and beyond over the past two to three weeks. And the weather forecast for the next one week or so is not good, with more rain expected which could last until April.

If this happens, Zambia will certainly face major flooding with potentially catastrophic consequences. This is why we should not wait to declare this a national disaster requiring emergency measures. We need to immediately respond to the coming crisis and further develop disaster preparedness activities.

And as President Levy Mwanawasa has correctly stated, Zambia alone is unable to deal with the effects of the current floods, international support is urgently needed.

The situation in most parts of our country, especially in Southern Province, is particularly worrying. Our flood-prone areas were already severely hit by flooding last year and the year before. Many communities in these areas are just starting to recover and they now have to face another crisis. We may not know exactly how many people are currently being affected but the numbers are rising on a daily basis.

We must immediately bring humanitarian aid to affected communities but we also need to bear in mind that people affected or displaced by the floods will need long-term assistance, especially to restore their livelihoods. Arable lands are lost in flooding, which is a very important loss for the economy and for the livelihood of our people.

The relentless rains are causing severe flooding in many parts of our country, including townships and compounds in our cities, leading to severe destruction and affecting so many of our people.

Many crops have been washed away and food stocks destroyed. People who already were vulnerable before the floods are now totally dependent on households in communities who managed to salvage their own stocks.

The risk of malaria and water bourn diseases is growing. There is an increase in various diarrheal diseases which obviously need to be addressed mostly because water is being contaminated. And because of the floods, drinking water is being contaminated. So, obviously, water and sanitation is a priority for emergency response.

Some households have been washed away by the rain. There, again, is need to provide them with non-food items.

The distress caused by flooding is likely to continue for some time, together with the destruction they are causing. The floods have left our roads damaged, bridges swept away. And as President Mwanawasa observed yesterday, “lives have been lost and there is a lot of hunger”.

But the problem of these natural disasters, of floods, will not go away soon. There is need to develop policies, strategies and plans to combat the risks associated with these floods.

And such policies, strategies and plans should be based on a comprehensive risk assessment. This will require an integrated approach whereby a wide range of mitigation measures should be considered.

We need to change our approach to the management of floods. We have experienced a number of them over the years and by now we should have some reasonable experience on how to respond to such disasters or crises. We need to change to a proactive management of floods. Of course this requires identification of the risk, the development of strategies to reduce that risk, and the creation of policies and programmes to put such strategies into effect. Of course all these will not necessarily eliminate the risk of floods but will help reduce the suffering of our people and the damage to their households and stocks.

When the probability of the extreme flooding event is greater than normal, then activities such as stockpiling of sand bags, emergency food and water supplies, the evacuation of high value stored crops or goods from flood prone areas can be undertaken.

It is a good time to create awareness in the public as to the potential for flooding, highlight the actions that the public and others should take, and to carryout emergency response exercises to test the degree of readiness. In some cases, emergency measures such as temporary raising of flood protection works may be warranted.

We can surely reduce the impact of some of these floods. For example, it has become an annual occurrence: China’s mighty Yangtze River swells under torrential rains, then surges downstream, flooding dozens of communities and leaving thousands homeless.

During the summer of 1998, more than 2,000 people were killed, and the floods, which began in early June when seasonal rains arrived earlier and were heavier than usual, left 14 million homeless.

For the fifth time that summer, the Yangtze hurled a massive flood crest toward the tens of millions of people who make their homes along its central and lower stretches. Earlier that week, a fourth flood crest was thwarted by millions of weary soldiers and civilians drafted into the flood fighting campaign. More importantly, weakened levees that have withstood an early constant assault by the river remained largely intact.

What this shows is that we cannot sit ndwii hoping things will sort themselves out. We have to stand up and do something. Our urban areas are being harassed by rain water simply because we don’t have an effective and efficient drainage system. In some cases this doesn’t need expensive construction to get the water moving. But every year the same areas get flooded and no one does anything about it.

A number of critical services such as power lines often cross flood-prone areas. But every year we end up with these being destroyed or damaged when such utilities can be protected against the ravages of flooding at a relatively low cost through additional depth of burial, a higher design standard for exposed components, a raising of components above design flood levels.

The same applies to bridges. Every year we lose many bridges due to flooding. Bridges generally constrict the flow of water, and they can act as artificial dams if debris jams on the structure. In all cases, their hydraulic characteristics must be considered at the design stage to prevent unacceptable rise of water levels upstream of the structure.

Bridges are important in terms of maintaining access for evacuation and delivery of medical and other emergency services. Key transportation corridors should have high design standards that will withstand extreme flooding events.

Bridges are expensive, and difficult to replace quickly after a flood event and therefore a lot of attention needs to be paid to their construction; there should be no short-cuts in the way we construct bridges.

Therefore, corruption in this area should not be tolerated in any way or any form because the costs of shoddy jobs can be too high.

We call on the government to go all out and mobilise the Zambian people, including our armed forces, to try and mitigate the effects of the current flooding on our people. And these should not only be those in the rural areas but consideration should also be given to those in urban areas who have been affected in similar way.

There is also need to step up the international campaign because we cannot manage this crisis on our own; we need international assistance.

And let us start by declaring this a national disaster and deal with it with the same tenacity with which we deal with all other disasters.



At 7:31 AM , Blogger MrK said...

If you check out the maps of the Luangwa River Valley, or the Kafue River Valley, they have an enormous potenetial for agriculture.

If the upstream parts of the partially dry contributors were used as catchment areas, they could be full of water for much more of the year, maybe all year. They could be dammed with ecologically friendly small dams, and used for agriculture.

This would solve several issues at once. It would reduce the amount of water available for flooding. It would increase the amount of land under cultivation for agriculture. It would lower the price of food. It would, if done correctly and the land parcelled out in medium sized farms (100 hectares would be good), improve people's wealth.

These valleys are natural water catchment areas. If the correct amount of land was used, people could actually create a net contribution to the water available in the area, above what is used for agriculture.

If the areas above the upper reaches of partially dry rivers were swaled, this would raise the local groundwater levels, and these rivers could be permanently fed with groundwater. It would tie up a lot of water as groundwater, in dams, and in crops and vegetation.

Swales are shallow ditches of half a meter deep and two meters wide, which fill up with excess rainwater, and give it time to be absorbed by the soil. Their shallowness ensures that what isn't absorbed, has a chance to completely evaporate.

Also, storing water as groundwater gets around the issue of malaria, which requires stagnant surface water.

Zambia could feed it's many aquifers like that as well.

Add to that organic only agriculture, and there will be very few to no pollution issues.


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