Wednesday July 1, 2020
By PAULINE KAIRU
A boat evacuates villagers from their flooded homes in Siaya County, western Kenya. PHOTO | FILE | NMG
Just when the region thought the worst of the flooding was over, the weatherman is warning of another bout; only this time, some areas will be spared but dealt another devastating blow: extra-ordinarily dry spells.
The erratic weather pattern threatens cropping seasons due to crop-water-stress and the earlier-than-normal end of the March to May rainfall season.
Meteorologists warn that parts of Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Ethiopia, should expect above normal rainfall, and a return of floods between June and September.
The rainfall forecast tells of an elevated risk of flooding to the Nile River Basin and the Lake Victoria Basin and surrounding low-lying areas of the region.
In unimodal (single peak rainfall-dependent) areas of Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Sudan, as well as western Kenya and northeastern Uganda, rainfall forecasts predict above-average June to September seasonal rainfall with an associated risk of floods in river basins.
“The overall impact of the devastating floods is yet to be fully assessed due to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the floods caused significant crop damage and destroyed various infrastructure in affected areas,” said the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net).
In Kenya, says Fews Net, 40 per cent of paddies in southwestern Kenya were reportedly damaged by Lake Victoria overflows in surrounding low-lying regions.
In Somalia, some 50,000 hectares of riverine and agropastoral farmland was inundated, representing approximately 17 per cent of total land cultivated during the April to June Gu season.
Fews Net is concerned about crop production prospects in eastern and southeastern Kenya, southern and northwestern Somalia, southwestern Ethiopia, parts of Uganda, and southeastern South Sudan due to the mixed effects of heavy rainfall and floods, the early end of the long rain season, and the destructive invasion by desert locusts.
The network said satellite-derived crop simulation models and key-informants have confirmed that already several areas like western Ethiopia, western Darfur, eastern and southern Sudan, northwestern South Sudan, that are currently experiencing rainfall deficits are consequently exhibiting drier-than-normal vegetation conditions.
Currently, several pastoralist and marginal agricultural livelihood zones that are dependent on the March to May rains in western Uganda, western Rwanda, southern South Sudan, southern Somalia, and Somali region of Ethiopia, are experiencing rainfall deficits of 10-100 mm. In these areas, cumulative rainfall has dropped by up to 55 per cent of normal rains. So are southern Sudan, parts of western Ethiopia, and northwestern South Sudan.
Rainfall deficits are also expected to emerge in coastal Kenya and Tanzania in the upcoming season. The expected dry spell could inspire the formation of a third-generation of desert locust swarms, groups, and bands which remain a threat to the region.
Crop losses from desert locusts have been reported in southeastern South Sudan and Belg-cropping areas of southwestern Ethiopia. And there is renewed concern for additional crop losses in agropastoral areas of Somalia during the June to September dry season in bimodal areas of the Horn.
As far as anticipated harvests are concerned, it is a mixed bag of fortune as satellite imaging indicates broadly average to slightly above-average crop yield prospects for early-planted crops (planted in February or early March) outside of flood-affected riverine or low-lying areas.
“However, there is increasing concern that late-planted crops (planted in April) will be subject to significantly reduced yields or even crop failure in marginal cropping areas in eastern and southeastern lowlands of Kenya due to prolonged crop water stress in May and early June. Most riverine cropping areas still remain water-logged,” says Fews Net.
In Uganda, most early-planted maize crops in the south are in the late maturity to harvesting stages, and recent field reports indicate green-maize harvesting is ongoing in this region, according to the report.
In the rest of the country, however, there is increasing concern for reduced yields of maize, which is mostly in the reproductive to maturity stages, due to poor May rainfall.
There, the establishment of average June to September seasonal rainfall in the eastern and northern regions are anticipated to maintain a risk of flooding, especially around the Lake Victoria and Nile River basins and flood-prone areas in the Mt Elgon region.