ICPAC Warns of Potential Public Health and Agricultural Risks Due to Heavy Rains in the Greater Horn of Africa

ICPAC Warns of Potential Public Health and Agricultural Risks Due to Heavy Rains in the Greater Horn of Africa

By Mekonnen Teshome

The Climate Centre of the Greater Horn of Africa has warned that above-normal rainfall during the March to May season is likely to pose risks to public health, agriculture, and infrastructure in the region.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) has announced that while the wetter-than-normal conditions could enhance soil moisture, beneficial for agricultural activities, the heavy rains are predicted to adversely impact public health, agriculture, and infrastructure in the region.

The rainfall outlook for various zones within the GHA region for March to May 2024.

Presenting the regional report on the impact scenario of heavy rains at the 66th Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF66) of ICPAC on Wednesday, Esayas Lemma, Crop Development Director with the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and a review scientist for the GHACOF, highlighted the potential risks. 

He indicated that there is a possibility of flood and soil erosion incidents that could adversely affect croplands and productivity. According to Esayas, the wetter-than-normal conditions are likely to result in flooding and soil erosion, particularly in areas with poor land management practices across the Greater Horn of Africa.

He further noted that excessive soil moisture due to heavy rains is expected to cause crop damage, especially to tuber and root crops. Additionally, Esayas emphasized that the enhanced rains and warmer-than-average temperatures would lead to leaching of soil nutrients, an increase in the prevalence of crop pests and diseases, and the risk of locust swarms, quelea birds, and other pests and diseases across the region.

“There is a likelihood of post-harvest losses for irrigated crops, especially irrigated wheat, and a high rate of weed growth that may ultimately increase the cost of farm management,” he added.

Esayas also highlighted that the above-normal rains could potentially disrupt road networks, leading to challenges in food distribution and accessibility to farms and produce markets, particularly in Djibouti, Kenya, and Somalia.

Elderly women travel via donkey
Elderly women travel through the floods via donkey in Southern Ethiopia. Photo by Action Against Hunger.

Paulino O. Omay, a health and climate expert, who briefed participants at GHACOF66 last week in Kampala, Uganda, highlighted the potential impacts of above-normal rains. 

He indicated that these rains are also expected to lead to disease outbreaks, particularly waterborne diseases, internal parasites, and Transboundary Animal Diseases (TADs). Additionally, he emphasized that apart from human health issues such as Rift Valley Fever (RVF), livestock deaths due to flash floods are likely to affect the region.

On the contrary, drier-than-normal conditions could trigger other health problems such as malaria, yellow fever, dysentery, undernutrition, and malnutrition, especially among children, according to the expert. He also noted that the situation would result in the prevalence of various crop diseases and pests due to the enhanced rains and warmer-than-average temperatures.

Regarding the impact on water resources and energy, Dr. Khalid Hassaballah, a hydrologist at ICPAC, explained that the wetter-than-normal conditions expected over most parts of the region, with the highest probabilities indicated in central to western Kenya and in cross-border areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, may trigger risks of flash and river flooding and enhanced water availability in downstream areas such as the Juba, Shebelle, Dawa, and Ogaden rivers.

Though the rains would increase surface water availability and groundwater recharge, Dr. Khalid pointed out that water pollution is likely to occur in streams such as Athi, Ewaso Ngiro, Nugal, and Tana. He also considered the risks of flooding and infrastructure destruction, especially around Lake Tanganyika and Rusizi in Burundi.

Furthermore, the enhanced water availability may result in risks of flooding, displacement of people, soil erosion, landslides, water pollution, and risks of floating vegetation causing blockages in Lake Victoria and the Rift Valley Lake basins of the Greater Horn of Africa, the hydrologist predicted.

In addition to providing predictions on the potential impacts of the above-normal weather conditions, experts at GHACOF66 recommended practical responses. They emphasized the importance of early dissemination of weather information to the public, especially in selecting suitable crop and seed types for farming activities during the rainy season.

Furthermore, the experts stressed the need for regional governments to support farmers by providing appropriate technologies, subsidized fertilizers, and seeds. They encouraged farmers to seek professional advice from government authorities, ministries, and extension officers.

Disaster management responses suggested by the experts include rehabilitating soil erosion control structures through tree planting, building ditches on contour lines, and constructing progressive and radical terraces. They also proposed the construction of gabions.

Recognizing peace as a prerequisite for effective disaster management, experts urged conflicting parties in Sudan to end the fighting, enabling farmers to resume their agricultural and pastoral activities. Additionally, they underscored the importance of humanitarian support for disaster-prone and food-insecure communities.

To enhance preparedness and response efforts, experts recommended providing effective early warning information and regularly updating on cyclone development. They emphasized the importance of coordinating with Disaster Risk Management (DRM) efforts and promoting water harvesting measures. Implementing integrated water resources management among farmers was also highly advised.

It’s worth noting that heavy rainfall linked to the El Niño weather pattern hit the Greater Horn of Africa region as it was recovering from the worst drought in 40 years, which drove millions into hunger last year.

This story was produced with editorial support from InfoNile

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