Climate proofing the Zambezi

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched a USD$ 8 million initiative to help build the disaster resilience of 600,000 people living along the Zambezi river in seven southern African countries.

The Zambezi River Basin Initiative (ZRBI) is a response to "a dramatic increase in the numbers of floods along the river basin” according to Farid Abdulkadir, IFRC disaster management coordinator for the southern Africa region.

At 2,574 kilometers, the Zambezi is Africa's fourth largest river. Some 80 percent of the 32 million people in the fertile basin depend on agriculture or fishing.

While the Zambezi and its tributaries have always been prone to occasional flooding, changing weather patterns and years of land degradation has meant that “for many communities, these events are now annual crises, leaving them in an almost perpetual cycle of disaster, displacement and recovery,” said Abdulkadir.

The focus of the ZRBI, launched on 25 June, would therefore be on disaster preparedness rather than post emergency relief operations: “The Zambezi Initiative aims to break this cycle; to help communities be prepared for these disasters, and to encourage them to take steps to reduce the devastating impact that they have on their lives,” he said.

Map showing the Zambezi River Basin - stretching from Angola to Mozambique

A joint programme between the Angolan, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe Red Cross Societies, the ZBRI would combine risk reduction efforts with food security, health, HIV prevention and capacity building activities.

There would be a centre focus on helping communities adapt to climate threats, using conservation based farming techniques, water harvesting technologies and reforestation.

The US Agency for International Development, USAID, has committed $1 million to the project. Harlan Hale, USAID Principal Regional Advisor for Southern Africa, said: "It just makes good sense, we are always still committed to responding to disasters but we would also like to commit ourselves equally to helping to prevent and mitigate those disasters".