02/04/2013 – Rivers have recently been bursting their banks across much of Southern Africa, submerging communities and crops, but in central Zambia where no rivers flow, there has also been flooding, the result of increased levels in the underground water table.
For an entire month, from mid-January on, the central province of Mumbwa experienced heavy rains causing the underground water table to rise to record levels. Falling rain could not be absorbed and instead overflowed onto the already saturated land, creating a flood. Water literally came up from underground, eroding topsoil and anything on it.
Houses on the water-drenched land collapsed, leaving 1500 people homeless and two dead as their homes fell apart around them. Crops were submerged and stored food was destroyed by the damp conditions and rising waters.
Stanley Ndhlovu, disaster management coordinator with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), says that people were relocated to temporary accommodation camps. Despite the strained situation people were rallying together to support each other.
“They formed a committee to manage the camps and to look after each other and keep the camp safe,” says Ndhlovu. “An elderly couple, injured when their house collapsed on them, spent a few weeks in hospital and now they are being looked after by the community in the camp.”
The Zambian Red Cross Society (ZRCS), supported by the IFRC, has been assisting families in need since the onset of the flooding by supplying tents, mosquito nets, food and purifying the water supply. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has a long standing relationship with IFRC, specifically on dealing with or mitigating the risks of natural disasters such as the ones in Southern Africa. ECHO funds and stocks are prepositioned in disaster zones so the humanitarian response for the most vulnerable people is timely and effective.
There are no latrines in the Zambian camp, so maintaining sanitation and hygiene is a huge challenge says Ndhlovu. “Fifty volunteers have been trained to teach people ways to stay healthy, as diarrhoea is on the rise. There is a lot of stagnant water which is attracting mosquitoes and malaria is quickly spreading.”
The camps are only a temporary home, so when families return to their villages to rebuild in a few months, ZRCS will support them by providing building materials and tools. Staff and volunteers will also closely monitor the food situation as the floods came at the end of the harvest season and destroyed most of the supplies people had preserved for the year ahead. Many other countries in Southern Africa are already feeling the bite of recurring hunger, but it is a situation Zambia hopes to avoid.
By Hanna Butler, IFRC southern Africa Communications Officer