Thursday, February 14, 2013

Flood-proofing Mozambique

IRIN: Mozambique has dealt with years of recurrent floods and set up an effective early warning system, yet the intensity of this year’s rains came as a surprise.  At least a 100 people have been killed and 150,000 displaced in the country’s southern Gaza Province, with the Chókwè District among the worst affected by flooding of the Limpopo River.

The numbers of people killed and displaced have dropped since 2000, when floods in Mozambique killed 700 people and displaced a quarter of a million others, but they are higher than the tolls from 2008’s floods.

Aid workers and officials in Mozambique are now discussing problems in the early warning system, and they are looking to long-term solutions, including reviving a long-standing debate on dams, to save people from future floodwaters.  Although 2008 saw floodwaters along the Zambezi River Valley reach levels higher than in past flood years, increased planning, early warning and the rapid response capacity of the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC) ensured a better-coordinated response and lower casualties, according to the UN in Mozambique. 

But these measures proved less effective against this year’s torrential rains.  Américo Ubisse, the general secretary of the Mozambican Red Cross, has already started thinking about lessons learned. “The early warning system worked well this time. People already understand the meaning of blue, orange and red alert [colours signifying levels of risk]. But still the problem is that we were taken by surprise by the magnitude of the rains. The forecast talked about between 75 and 150mm of rain [over two days in the south]. But in the end [we received] 400mm. Suddenly, the water was already in the city and many people were affected at the same time.”

Sergio Buque at the National Meteorological Institute in Maputo says it is difficult to forecast rain quantities over 75mm using the equipment they have....

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