TRYNESS TEMBO, Choma
INDEED Zambia has not been spared by the dry spell that is affecting the Southern African region, the drought that is said to have been worsened by the most severe and longest El Nino weather condition in 35 years, as it has caused the lowest recorded rainfall between October and December since 1981.
The United Nations (UN) is even now warning that around 49 million people in Southern Africa could be affected by drought.
â€œIt is estimated that 40 million rural people and nine million poor urban people who live in drought-affected areas could be exposed,â€ the UNâ€™s World Food Programme (WFP) said in a report released a few days ago.
â€œThe drought has especially hit the maize belt in Southern Africa, the continentâ€™s top producer of the staple grain. Maize planting has been delayed by two months or more in Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Maize deficit has pushed the price higher in several countries across the drought-hit region.
â€œEl Nino brings very high temperatures and dryness in Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. The dry conditions are anticipated to continue until the beginning of autumn in the southern hemisphere in April or May.â€
For Zambia, the areas worst affected are reported to be Eastern, Southern, Western and Central provinces.
In response to the poor rainfall pattern, Government has set aside over US$140 million for the construction and rehabilitation of dams countrywide so that they can be used to harvest water, a system involving the accumulation and depositing of rainwater for re-use.
According to experts , rainwater harvesting provides an independent water supply during dry spells and can be used to supplement the main supply as well as provide water when there is a drought like the current situation being experienced in Southern Africa.
Government is urging farmers and the general public to adopt the water harvesting system for use in irrigation and livestock farming.
Recently, Ministry of Energy and Water Development permanent secretary Edward Chomba conducted a tour of dams and boreholes in Kalomo, Gwembe, Pemba, Zimba and Namwala districts in Southern Province to assess the extent of the dry spell and see how the little water which is available can be saved.
Bishop Chomba said people have a challenge when it comes to accessing water, which is a major source of livelihood. He said for Southern Province, which is dominated by livestock farmers, increased water supply means animals will be able to reproduce more.
He noted that studies reveal that in a place where there is no water, animals tend to stop reproducing and this can negatively affect the economy.
This is why there is a lot of emphasis on farmers to consider adopting the water harvesting system.
According to Ministry of Energy and Water Development assistant director for water affairs Simon Kangâ€™omba, the system could save water for re-use on crops in times of drought and thereby increasing agricultural productivity.
Mr Kangâ€™omba noted that the water harvesting system offers a good opportunity for individuals, institutions, communities and farmers to avoid water wastage in times when there is plenty.
â€œAs a country, there is urgent need to come up with ways to save water at both household and national levels which can be used in times of need in light of climate change.
â€œFarmers should utilise the water harvesting system and use it to increase their yields during times when there is no water, like the current situation where the country has been hit by erratic rainfall,â€ he said.
The Department of Water Affairs is currently popularising water harvesting by sensitising people in all parts of the country on the importance of the system. The department is conducting demonstrations on how the system works in strategic areas as well as rehabilitating and constructing dams to address the water crisis the country is facing.
Ministry of Energy and Water Development director for water affairs Howard Mpamba said the department intends to move away from the old method of only constructing small dams and boreholes to address the water crisis the country is facing.
And Pemba district commissioner Reginald Mugoba said the provision of adequate water resources is still a challenge in the new district.
It is the same story for many other districts.
Eva Maunga, a resident of Zimba district, said if Government works on the dam in the area, it can help the local people access clean water and prevent outbreaks of some diseases.
Ms Maunga noted that most people in the area are livestock farmers and lack of access to water poses a threat to the animals.
â€œWe are going to be happy when Government works on the dam in my area because it will help us contribute to the economy through the farming and livestock sub-sectors,â€ she said.
TRYNESS TEMBO, Choma