Eyewitness

March 10, 2000

Amid the deluge of stories of tragedy, rescue and relief in flood-devastated Mozambique were reports that bad land and water management in the country and its neighbours exacerbated the disaster.

Poor river control and opening dam walls, it was suggested, swelled the 1.8m-high walls of water that raged down the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers, sweeping away everything in their path and claiming thousands of lives.

But the suggestion is disputed by natural resource experts. Bruce Page, a University of Natal ecologist and riverine vegetation specialist, says: "Once that amount of water is on the landscape, you can't control it - it makes its own channels." The problem is poor understanding of where to live, lack of research into floods and inadequate disaster planning.

Flash flooding is a regular, natural occurrence in southern Africa. This year's cyclonic activity was worse than usual but not unprecedented. There are few dams along the rivers that carried floodwaters into Mozambique, and nothing could be done when dams overflowed.

Southern Mozambique, Mr Page says, comprises mostly sands washed down by major rivers over three million years. The Limpopo's mouth has shifted up and down the coast following floods, distributing soil over vast, fertile flood plains and creating lush riverine vegetation - without which there would be more flash flooding.

"The problem is that humans this century haven't planned for flooding on this scale. Because it hasn't happened in their lifetime, people think it won't again. Farming is best along the banks of rivers that also enable irrigation, so people go there. But it's unsafe."

Mr Page adds: "We haven't been doing necessary research into flood forecasting. We know that floods will happen again - that's definite. We must learn more about how they happen, where it is best for people to live and what to do when floods occur."

A coordinated regional disaster response prioritised at a Southern African Development Community meeting last week will make such activities a political imperative.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns