Unusually heavy rainfall has caused flooding in many parts of southern Africa and is forecast to continue across the region until February. The floods have already forced thousands of people to flee their land in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the World Health Organization is concerned that cholera outbreaks and high malaria transmission rates will follow. Too much rain may also harm crops.The heavier than usual rainy season has been attributed to a climate phenomenon known as La Niña, which causes a change in temperature on the Pacific Ocean and alters weather patterns in many parts of the world. It is just the latest in a series of unusual rain patterns that Africans have been coping with over the last few months.
Zambia and Zimbabwe have experienced the most disastrous downpours so far. In Zimbabwe, more than 1,000 farming families from the Mashonaland Central Province have lost their homes and livestock to floods. In Zambia, another 1,000 families from the Southern Provinces were forced off their land. There have also been reports of floods in Mozambique and South Africa that have forced some people to leave their land and stranded others when roads and trains were shut down.
The rains have destroyed countless acres of land in the areas hardest hit by floods. However, even areas that were not flooded may find crops damaged by too much rain. According to Zimbabwe’s state newspaper, most crops are now showing signs of nitrogen deficiency due to waterlogged soil.
Those living in high rainfall areas are advised to take measures to protect themselves and their families from diseases associated with flooding and high humidity. Sam Nyoni is the health inspector for the Mazabuka area of Zambia, where flooding has destroyed many homes and pit latrines. He warned residents that sound sanitation practices, such as the use of latrines, would be necessary to prevent cholera outbreaks. Nyoni suggested that villagers should begin making a drainage system and start constructing houses out of cement.
High humidity, rainfall, and flooding can also create conditions that encourage mosquito breeding and lead to increased malaria transmission. The World Health Organization is calling for governments across southern Africa to distribute insecticide-treated bednets, stock health centres with anti-malaria drugs, and encourage people to take advantage of these resources to reduce their risk.
Meanwhile, parts of eastern Africa are still working to combat a threat to agriculture caused by higher rains towards the end of 2007 – Desert Locusts. The controlled application of pesticides has helped to combat the locusts in Kenya. But parts of eastern Ethiopia and southern Sudan remain at risk from Desert Locusts, which can quickly destroy crops and rangelands.