HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsCounting the cost of recent floods

Counting the cost of recent floods

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For over four weeks now, global media attention has focused on flooding in Australia which left parts of Brisbane, the country’s third-biggest city resembling a war zone in need of years of reconstruction.

Despite the enormity of the disaster which sunk so many buildings, only slightly above 30 people were reported dead.

But the structural damages are colossally innumerable reducing flood insurance policies to a mere joke.

It is inconceivable how those people are going to recover as the cost of reconstruction is at this stage may be beyond most of the affected families.

In no time, the prices of food stuff shot up as Australia rues the loss of over $30 billion worth of farming and coal production in what is thought to be worst flooding in recent history.

Globally, countries that depended on Australian exports may have to wait a little longer, more than three months at least, until the floods recede to allow the farming and coal mining industry to recover.

This has slowed down exports as heavy rain and floods have compromised the quality of agricultural products, while iron ore prices are expected to soar owing to the delay of coal supplies from Australia.

Resultantly this has impacted on global prices of farming and iron products.

As the Australian disaster mutated into recovery phase, Brazil was next to be pounded by heavy rains leaving over 740 people dead.

A combination of floods, mudslides and landslides left hundreds of thousands homeless in what the local media described as the worst weather-related natural disaster in Brazilian recent history.

About a third of the country’s 80 provinces were affected with floods that destroyed roads, bridges, rice and corn farms including houses.

Here in South Africa, there are already over 40 people known to have been killed by floods with more than 6 000 people rendered homeless. Preliminary estimates placed crop damage at $145 million.

Property damage was also estimated at $52 million. Eight of the country’s nine provinces have been declared disaster areas.

All these disastrous conditions are a result of the La Niña weather patterns which have seen an increased rainfall pattern over southern African countries, Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, Philippines and other countries around the world.

Scientists believe that La Niña conditions occur when the Pacific trade winds blow more strongly than usual, pushing the sun-warmed surface water farther west and increasing the upwelling of cold water in the eastern regions.

Together with the atmospheric effects of the related southern oscillation, the cooler water brings drought to western South America and heavy rains to eastern regions.

As southern Africa enters the flood and cyclone disaster season, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi are already on flood alert.

Having learnt from previous experiences, preparedness measures have already been put in place in most of these countries.

The Zambezi River basin is the major source of headache for Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique.

Lessons from Australia have shown us that no matter the magnitude of a disaster, the loss of human life can be minimised through proper early warning systems unlike in Brazil and South Africa, where death rates are higher.

The continuous issuance of early warning information enabled many people to move to safer places.

In Zimbabwe the main flood hot spots include Muzarabani, Tsholotsho, Save River in Manicaland and other places which experience localised flooding.

The impact of these disasters on communities, especially in southern African countries, grows with each disaster as they are hit before they fully recover from the effects of the previous disaster.

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions by smaller countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and several others are surely insignificant unless big economies such as China and the USA, the leading producers of carbon emissions, play ball.

We can only imagine that the effects of the La Niña and El Niño phenomena, such as the Australia and Brazil floods, are stark reminders to global leaders who are dragging their feet on reducing carbon emissions that disasters are increasing in frequency and impact which calls for more pragmatic solutions to global warming and climate change policies. In this globalised world, no economy is safe in the face of such disasters.

Scientists believe that this increased intensity and frequency, now every two to three years, of El Niño and La Niña events in recent decades is a result of warmer ocean temperatures resulting from global warming.

In a 1998 report, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration argued that higher global temperatures due to the depletion of the ozone layer, is increasing evaporation from land and adding moisture to the air, thus intensifying the storms and floods.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based
in Pretoria, South Africa

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