Decades of independence and civil war in Angola are the reason why some people in the Ngamiland of Botswana have lost their lives and property to floods. That statement doesn’t make sense until David Lesolle, an environmental science at the University of Botswana, connects the dots.
For a long time (26 years, four months, three weeks and three days) Angola fought a bitter civil war and as a result was unable to develop robust enough weather observation systems. Angola and Botswana happen to share the fourth largest river system in Africa that starts in the former country as Cubango River and becomes Okavango River in the latter.
After seasonal rains fall in southern Angola, floodwaters flow slowly down the Okavango River into semi-arid northwestern Botswana. In March 2009, flash floods affected some 3789 persons in Ngamiland villages that are located at the beginning of the Okavango Delta, close to Namibia and Angola. The Botswana Red Cross Society had to assist some 200 families in 10 villages. Additionally, bridges were closed or washed away, and water and electricity supplies interrupted.
The water takes some six months to reach villages in the North West and Lesolle says that if Angola’s observational systems were robust enough, they would generate information that would be passed on to Botswana well in time to enable authorities to take appropriate disaster mitigation effort.
“Weather knows no boundaries,” he says.
He mentions the Angolan example to illustrate how independence and civil wars in the region have created meteorological and climatological data gaps. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique also went through this difficult phase. These data gaps have had a detrimental effect on the development of complete weather observational systems.
All countries of the world exchange weather and climate data through the World Meteorological Organisation’s World Weather Watch programme. Lesolle says that the WMO is an example of a successful intergovernmental cooperation, especially on matters related to weather and climate information exchanges. Through one of its organs, the Southern African Development Community also provides regional meteorological service to all member states. Within the scope of this service is a forum for the development and issuance of a regional climate outlook.
However, there is another reality that SADC countries have to contend with ÔÇô lack of resources. Lesolle says that African countries like Botswana cannot afford commercial high-resolution satellite imagery which enables more precise forecasting. This imagery is sold by companies in the west and the charges are prohibitive: a single photograph can cost as much as US$100 000 (P920 000). In the case of disaster management, high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery would be useful for purposes of evaluating infrastructure and ground conditions as well as planning how to react to a variety of emergencies that threaten life and property.