ELIZABETH CHATUVELA, Sioma
MBETA is a little- known island on the Zambezi River with a population of about 2,998 people who depend on gardening and fishing for a living.Harsh weather, precipitating floods and sometimes droughts, have over the years been threatening livelihoods and food security in this rural community of Western Province.
The unpredictable weather patterns, owing to climate change, means that it is difficult for peasants in Mbeta to plan for crop production.
The island’s geographical location makes the people vulnerable to floods and loss of property and crops.
Inhabitants of the Mbeta Island regard this place as an important inheritance from their forefathers, so the issue of migrating to safer land is out of question.
History has it that the place was named after Mooli sa Mbeta, a Lozi queen who migrated there in the pre-independence days during ethnic clashes in the Lealui royal village.
Induna Polota, 66, who has lived most of his life on the island, confirms that unpredictable weather patterns pose a threat to life and property.
The move by Government to install early warning systems has cheered peasants in the area who now look forward to increased food production in the community.
Induna Polota has commended Government for installing early warning system sirens which he says will help the locals to prepare for calamities and also plan for food production.
Climate change has had an adverse effect on most parts of Zambia, culminating into environmental degradation, droughts and floods, as well as their resultant negative impact on communities such as damage to infrastructure, including roads, bridges, schools, health centres, water and sanitation facilities.
The years 2006 and 2009 were worse in terms of flooding, especially in the North-Western, Northern, Southern and Western provinces, of course leaving massive damage to infrastructure. This prompted the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) to engage the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) on the need to initiate the natural disaster early warning system project for Zambia.
ZICTA engaged ITU in 2014 during the World Development Conference held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to deliberate on the critical role of information and communication technology (ICTs) in disaster management and mitigation.
It was at this forum that the natural disaster early warning system project for Zambia was initiated after an agreement was signed between ZICTA and ITU.
The project has been launched in Zambia with Sioma and Mwandi districts in Western Province housing the pilot phases for the country at an estimated cost of 300, 000 Swiss Francs.
Sioma and Mwandi, which are highly prone to flooding, were selected for the installation of the early warning systems to be used in disseminating alerts for flooding-related disasters in order to enhance public safety.
In Sioma district, the early warning flood sirens were installed on Mbeta Island and were commissioned by Vice- President Inonge Wina recently.
Induna Polota says Government has done well to install the early warning radar in Sioma because residents of Mbeta are not willing to leave the fertile soils of the island and settle elsewhere.
“I do not think I can manage to go and settle elsewhere because this is my home, my life is here. It is therefore pleasing to see Government install these systems to help us prepare for disasters,’’ he says.
Induna Polota hopes that given a reliable weather forecast, the people of Mbeta will embark on large-scale farming.
According to the World Bank, in its 2018 Report on Food Security, Early Warning Systems for East and Southern Africa, disasters caused by climate extremes such as tropical cyclones and severe storms, floods, heat weaves and droughts are jeopardising Africa’s hard-won development achievements towards further growth, food security and poverty reduction.
It is therefore critical for countries such as Zambia, regional bodies, development partners and the private sector to come up with solid disaster management and mitigation measures.
Nonetheless, Mrs Wina says early warning information from Western Province will help Government to plan for impending disasters, disseminate alert warning messages to people at risk, and also take quick action in responding to disasters.
The Vice-President’s Office will coordinate the works through the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), Provincial Disaster Management Committee, District Disaster Management Committee and the Satellite Disaster Management Committee.
Speaking at the launch of the early warning systems, Mrs Wina noted that Zambia has experienced climate change-related disasters in the past caused by floods due to, among other causes, the bursting of river banks due to heavy rains.
“These flood-related disasters affect a lot of vital infrastructure such as roads, telecommunication systems, human settlements, schools, including water and sanitation [structures]. This, therefore, necessitated the need to implement early warning systems through the installation of the natural disaster early warning sirens,’’ she said.
Mrs Wina said the local community should fully utilise the information from early warning systems and prevent loss of life, damage to property and environmental degradation.
DMMU national coordinator Yande Mwale says the frequency and intensity of climate change-related hazards in Zambia over the years makes it necessary for the country to put in place early warning radar.
ZICTA board chairperson Emmanuel Musonda says the early warning system, which is the first of its kind in Zambia, has the capacity to provide humanitarian workers in affected areas with reliable communication systems during and after a disaster.
Mr Musonda feels the best way of disaster management and mitigation in Zambia is to have such weather monitors in other flood-prone areas of the country.
Western Province Minister Richard Kapita says the installation of early warning systems shows that Government cares for the people of Western Province.
Mr Kapita said the locals have been using indigenous knowledge to monitor the water ambiance during the rainy season, although the system is unreliable.
And Sioma Member of Parliament Mbololwa Subulwa thanked the Government for installing the weather monitors.
As the saying in disaster management circles goes, “Preparedness is not a destination, but a journey’. It is hoped that people of Mbeta Island will not relax but brace for unpredictable weather.
ELIZABETH CHATUVELA, Sioma