… El Niño to produce erratic rainfall over SADC
By Hilary Mare
INTENSIFYING pressure on natural resources, mounting inequality and climate change has put mankind’s ability to feed itself in jeopardy, and Namibia is no exception.
Having faced recurrent drought over the past few years, Namibia’s hope for better rainfall has once again been dealt a huge blow with authorities recently affirming that Southern Africa is expected to receive erratic rainfall in the 2018/19 agricultural season.
The consensus forecast produced by the 22nd Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) held in Lusaka, Zambia, from 22 to 24 August, shows that most of the 16 Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries are likely to receive “normal to below-normal” rainfall for the period October 2018 to March 2019.
“Seasonal rainfall will be “normal to below-normal” across most of the region, except for Tanzania,” the SARCOF affirmed.
The forecast is divided into two half-seasons, from October to the end of December 2018, and from January to the end of March 2019. Areas likely to receive normal to below-normal rainfall from October to December include eastern Angola, the extreme northern and southern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), western and southern Madagascar, southern Malawi, most of Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as most of Namibia and South Africa, except the western fringes of the two countries along the Atlantic coast.
The rainfall forecast does not change much during the second half of the season from January to March 2019 when most of the region is expected to receive normal to below-normal rainfall.
Areas forecast to get adequate rainfall in that period are Angola, the northern tip of Botswana, the Comoros, south-eastern DRC, northern Malawi, Madagascar, Mauritius, north-eastern Mozambique, northern Namibia, Seychelles, southern Tanzania, and the western and northern regions of Zambia.
Climate experts also forecast an early onset of the 2018/19 season, a false start, which could be followed by prolonged dry spells that disturb the timing and spatial distribution of rainfall throughout the region. In developing this outlook, the climate scientists took into account oceanic and atmospheric factors that influence climate over southern Africa.
In particular, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is forecast as likely to shift from neutral to the warm phase, referred to as El Niño, during the forthcoming season. For most of the SADC region, rainfall is forecast to be insufficient to meet the needs of the agricultural and power generation sectors.
“The region should, therefore, brace for erratic rains or even drought conditions over large portions of southern Africa, except for Tanzania and other areas predicted to have higher rainfall only in the second half-season. The associated agricultural risks include limited water availability, poor grazing and heat stress that could affect both crops and livestock,” the Forum further noted.
Notably in SADC, El Niño has historically been associated with the occurrence of below-average rainfall in the central and southern parts of the region, while the north-eastern parts of the region have historically experienced a higher frequency of above-average rainfall during El Niño years.
The El Niño event in the 2015/16 agricultural season caused the worst drought in 35 years, leaving 14.1 million people in need of emergency assistance across the region. Namibia was also not spared from the impacts of the El Niño during 2015/16 season and experienced one of its worst droughts in the country’s recorded history, with a state of emergency declared.
What is imperative and of concern is that SADC’s Food and Nutrition Security Strategy 2015 to 2025 emphasises that the regional food and nutrition security situation remains unstable and unpredictable. It notes that almost 16 percent of SADC’s rural population has been consistently designated food insecure over the past five years, despite improved production in some countries.
It indicates that in Namibia between 200,000 and 800,000 people are at risk of food insecurity.
The food security report further highlights the fact that the 2017/18 agricultural season was characterised by a late start and extended mid-season dry spells during December and January, as well as heavy rains from February into April.
Available data indicates that the dry spells that characterised the 2017/18 rainfall season have resulted in reduced cereal harvests compared to the 2016/17 bumper crop. Namibia harvested 135,770 tonnes in 2017/18. This amounted to a mere 39 percent of the country’s cereal requirement.
The El Niño conditions expected in the 2018/19 rainfall season will thus likely result in delayed harvests and reduced maize production levels. “Thus maize grain prices in deficit countries, such as Namibia, may stabilise between March 2019 and April 2019 instead of declining as is typically the case prior to harvests,” the report states.
The report further states that poor pasture conditions were also observed in much of Namibia, western South Africa, south-western Botswana, and south-western Angola. Some of the affected areas have also reported low-to-critical water availability. A lack of pasture and water available for livestock may have adverse impacts on livestock, particularly if poor rainfall in the affected areas is recorded in the 2018/19 season.
Currently, Namibia’s dam levels are at 39.4 percent of capacity, compared to this time last year when they stood at 53.4 percent.
The situation underlines the importance of Namibia’s efforts to become climate resilient and has also alerted Namibian farmers to brace themselves for an austere drought should the prevailing dry conditions persist over the next few months.
In the face of these impending challenges, some people are pinning their hopes in a recent discovery, an aquifer – an underground layer of permeable rock that contains vast amounts of water – was discovered under Namibian soil.
German and Namibian scientists mapping the aquifer estimate that it extends 15,000 square km and that could provide enough drinking water to supply central-north Namibia for up to 400 years.
However, experts have been quick to point out the many potential problems associated with extracting this water and insisted that the discovery is by no means a panacea for Namibia’s environmental challenges.
Regardless of how much water the aquifer could yield, there are many things the Namibian government needs to do to prepare the country for environmental and climate change. And promisingly, there are indications that the Namibian government recognises the urgency of the situation.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015