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Impact of floods greater than early estimates

Country Map - Zambia (Zambezi River)
The Zambezi river burst its banks following heavy rains (IRIN)

Humanitarian officials are concerned that more people may be affected by flooding in western Zambia than was originally thought.

Robert Tabana, national humanitarian officer in the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Zambia, told IRIN that "it seems the number of people affected was under-estimated".

The government and UN agencies had estimated that 21,200 people were affected when the Zambezi burst its western banks after heavy downpours earlier this year.

"It seems to be a situation that's getting more serious than we earlier estimated. Usually we have floods almost every rainy season, so we expected that it would not be as bad as it has been, but indications are that the situation is getting worse right now," Tabana added.

A further multi-agency needs assessment would be conducted.

Tabana explained that families living on the flood plains of the Zambezi normally had two homes, "a home in the plains and home in the highlands, and traditionally they would move to the highlands" during flooding.

However, the early arrival of heavy rains, which then continued beyond the normal rainy season, had left many families stranded in the Western province of Zambia.

"There was quite a lot of rain. We had abnormally high rainfall, especially in the western parts, and this continued well into April. Normally we expect [it] to end around March, but it went well over into April and that made the situation worse," he said.

"The thing is that the Zambezi started breaking its banks earlier than anticipated - it normally happens around February - but even as early as December, in some areas it was already flooding. Those people who plant crops on the plains [were affected]," Tabana explained.

The destruction of crops on the flood plains could affect food supplies in the area. "It is our belief that the food situation currently is still ... okay, but it will worsen in the months to come because most of the crops lost now would have been harvested next month. We will see the impact on food security in two to three months," Tabana explained.

Discussions were underway with agencies, "especially WFP [World Food Programme], to look into the possibility of expanding their recovery programme to try and fit in flood victims", he said.

UN agencies were also "looking into assisting the government with water and sanitation problems in the area". Tabana added that there had been "reports of dysentery outbreaks, as people are using contaminated water, which had flooded latrines, to cook their food".

"We also expect, maybe, there will be some needs regarding shelter ... as we are made to understand that people are now living in government schools and other such temporary facilities," he said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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