SADC as disaster zone as tropical cyclones invade southern hemisphere

15Aug 2019
Miki Tasseni
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
SADC as disaster zone as tropical cyclones invade southern hemisphere

IN what looked like an extreme result of climate change, in like manner as melting icebergs and rising sea levels, tropical cyclones hit the southern hemisphere and especially the eastern coastline of SADC zone.

Two massive cyclones, Idai and Kenneth, named after original start of such cyclones on similar dates in the past, swept Mozambique and went as far inland as Malawi and Zimbabwe, which was an unknown phenomenon until now. Mozambique has had instances of massive rains for instance to the late 1990s weather phenomenon El Nino, marked by the paucity of rains and at times excessive rains in some places, but tropical cyclones are newer.

Experts fear that global heating is likely to inflict more droughts on Africa and cause floods in a routine manner, which adds fuel to the burning fire of what is a sustainable agro-sector strategy in the era of climate change. Data from some South African research centres showed that grain production in the SAD C zone was generally poor last season, with a few exceptions like South Africa and Zambia, though Tanzania appears to have had sufficient amounts and was discussing exporting to Kenya as grain or as milled flour. Updating forecasts proves to be a difficult task.

One problem about the flow of data though is the penchant for long term projects in order to build a sort of faith in what some skeptics call a climate narrative, instead of current season or two at most. One such attempt is a recent UK report saying that new research says that Africa will experience many extreme outbreaks of intense rainfall ‘over the next 80 years.’ Unquestionably such projections proceed from Africa as it is at present, whereas countries like Tanzania engage in nail biting soul searching as to whether to retain customary land titles or bring them into line with market needs, making them freehold titles. This is still experimental.

Pursuing this outlandish forecasting of what is likely to be the case nearly a century from now, the report says these climatic shifts ‘could trigger devastating floods, storms and disruption of farming. In addition, these events are likely to be interspersed with more crippling droughts during the growing season and these could also damage crop and food production.’ Evidently the authors expect that Africa will still be village based at that time, or will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, whereas African cities are the fastest growing worldwide, by other data. It means that demographic trends noted in South Asia as it moved from poverty will arise here too.

When it comes to cyclones, for years the public in the SADC region is used to hearing of their devastating effects along the eastern coast of the United States, and auxiliary reports of such situations in the Caribbean. But tropical cyclones at least since 2005, the Katrina phenomenon, have been identified with the US, while in this zone Mozambique is the one often afflicted with land-bound storms causing havoc on the seashore belt. This time however the two cyclones were a different matter, with Idah sweeping far inland, while Kenneth was targeting southern Tanzania as well as northern Mozambique for an unexplained reason it first lost power abruptly as it neared the coast, then curved inward or southward to hit Cabo Delgado, not Mtwara and Lindi as feared earlier. Scientists merely took note of this change and the public was relieved, simply that.

While tropical cyclones shifting to the southern hemisphere have struck the eastern coast hugely, the long wave weather or climatic forecast carried out by scientists at the UK Meteorological Office in collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University points at other disasters. It ‘reports on the likely impact on Africa of these temperature rises and indicates that western and central areas will suffer the worst impacts of weather disruptions. Many countries in these regions – including Niger, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are expected to experience substantial growth in population over that time and will be particularly vulnerable to severe floods.’ One can see there is more than one agenda at work in the summary of the forecasting, that population is at the core of it.

‘At the other end of the precipitation spectrum, the study revealed there would be an increase in occasions when severe drought would occur for up to 10 days in the midst of the most critical part of a region’s growing season. The result could cause severe disruption to crop production.’ Imagine that this is actually given as a projection, that for ten days there is no rain in the most critical part of the growing season, whereas more than a month of non-existence of rain, sporadic fall thereafter, and at times floods then sweeping away the crops have been experienced. The issue is what adaptation mechanisms the populations are beginning to think of, or exist in a commercial sense, for instance planting of vegetables in a backyard, keeping poultry, not farms.

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