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ZAMBIA: Rains help crops

JOHANNESBURG, 12 March 2003 (IRIN) - The latest heavy rains in Zambia, while causing localised damage, were good news for those who planted late, says the latest UN Resident Coordinator's report.

Zambia has been struggling with food insecurity brought on by drought. The December 2002 vulnerability assessment indicated that 2.7 million people or 28 percent of the population required food aid to survive.

According to the UN Resident Coordinator's report, heavy rains in the past two weeks had caused major rivers to swell and had led to flooding in some southern, eastern and north western parts of Zambia. This had disrupted some general food aid distributions.

In Chama, in Eastern Province, 1,000 families were displaced due to the flooding of the Luangwa river. In the North-West, the Zambia Red Cross (ZRC) was having difficulty reaching about 15,000 people in Zambezi West, Chavuma and Kabompo, on the west side of the Zambezi river.

"Currently, ZRC is using a combination of army boats and traditional transport such as ox-carts to get food to distribution centres where the combination of rains, sandy soil and flooding make it difficult to use conventional transport," the report added.

There had been a pause in rains in recent days, allowing for International Federation of the Red Cross trucks to be dispatched to help minimise delays in food distribution on the east side of the Zambezi river.

"In Gwembe, Southern Province, heavy rains washed away a key bridge, communication equipment and a police post. School feeding and general relief food operations have been slowed or have halted as roads have become impassable. Preliminary assessments indicate [that] around 1,600 households [have been] affected and around 1,200 hectares of crops [have been] damaged," the coordinators report noted.

The government's Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) was to finalise an assessment report after sending missions to affected areas last week.

But despite concerns about damage to homes, infrastructure and crops in these areas, many farmers in other areas who planted late owing to the delayed onset of the rains, will be benefiting from the past week or so of solid rain, the report added.

The 28 February Southern African Development Community (SADC) Food Security Ministerial Brief had indicated that the current season's maize production was likely to be better than the last five year average, and on a par with the last relatively good crop in 1999/2000.

Total likely production was estimated to be between 945,000 mt and just over 1 million mt.

"The assessment coincides with current thinking in Zambia that there will be a good crop (subject to rains continuing well into March), but there will be pockets of concern, where the crop will fail owing to erratic rainfall patterns, particularly in the South," the coordinator's report said.

As a result, the World Food Programme was to develop plans for a "significantly scaled back food relief program synchronized with the upcoming harvest in April".

Theme (s): Food Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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