Poor Distribution of Rainfall Leads to Floods and Droughts in Southern Africa

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has warned that poor distribution of rainfall in southern Africa is leading to severe drought in some areas and flooding risks in other areas.

In Madagascar, 700,000 people are thought to be affected by the drought in the south, whereas in the north 30,000 people have been affected by heavy rain that has brought a high risk of flooding and landslides.

In Mozambique, over 40% of this season’s crops in the south have been lost to drought. In the north, storms and heavy rains have left 45 dead and destroyed over 1,000 homes since the start of the rainy season in October 2015.

floods drought southern africa feb 2016
Drought and floods in southern Africa, February 2016. Image: FEWS NET

Drought in Southern Africa

According to FEWS NET, significantly below-average and poorly-distributed seasonal rainfall since October has negatively affected many countries in southern Africa. The largest precipitation deficits have been concentrated over western Madagascar, southern Zambia, central and western Mozambique, southern Malawi and large portions of Zimbabwe.

Earlier this month, in a statement of the effects of El Niño, the World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization, said:

In Southern Africa, many areas have seen the driest October-December period since at least 1981, and some 14 million people in the region are already facing hunger, which adds to fears of a spike in the numbers of the food insecure later this year through 2017.

Poor Distribution of Rainfall

While parts of Mozambique and Madagascar suffer drought, other areas of those same countries have experienced heavy rain and flooding.

FEWS NET say that during the last week heavy seasonal rains have continued over some parts of southern Africa, in particular southern Tanzania, northern Mozambique and northern Madagascar. Heavy rainfall is forecast to persist over these areas, where ground is already saturated. FEWS NET warn this is likely to cause inundation and swelling of streams and rivers.


In Tanzania, flooding has been reported in 5 regions since mid January, 2016. At least 400 people have been displaced in Dodoma municipality after 70 houses were destroyed or damaged after heavy rain between 17 and 18 January 2016.  Since then, flooding has been reported in Morogoro, Katavi, Mtwara and Dar es Salaam.

On 28 January, Mtwara (city) recorded 109.9mm of rain and Dar es Salaam 105.1mm and significant levels of rain continued for the next few days.


FloodList reported on 21 January that Mozambique was struggling with floods in the north while drought conditions persisted in the south.

Heavy rain has been affecting northern areas during January, 2016. The worst affected provinces are Cabo Delgado, Tete, Zambezia, Niassa and Nampula, all in the north of the country. Between 18 and 19 January, Montepuez, in the province of Cabo Delgado, recorded 96mm of rain in 24 hours. More recently, Montepuez recorded 146 mm in 24 hours between 04 and 05 February.

Yesterday, Agência de Informação de Moçambique (AIM) reported that 45 people have died in storms and floods which have hit parts of northern Mozambique since the start of the current rainy season in October 2015. The deaths were caused by high winds, lightning strikes, and floods resulting from torrential rains.

AIM also said that since October, the number of people affected by flooding is around 26,000. Over this period, 1,202 houses have been destroyed and a further 3,941 have been damaged. There are currently no government-run accommodation centres for flood victims. Those displaced by the floods are thought to be staying with friends and relatives.

In the south, the story is very different. Madagascar’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (Ministério da Agricultura e Segurança Alimentar – MASA), reported that 256,591 hectares of crops have been lost in the southern region, which corresponds to 43 per cent of the total sown area. In central areas, the drought situation has affected 180,440 hectares, about 9 percent of the total sown area. It is estimated that about 200,000 farmers have lost their crops.

This map presents the estimated total rainfall accumulation for Mozambique covering the period from 01 to 31 January 2016. This total estimate was derived from the Global Precipitation Measurement-MERG dataset (Integrated Multi-satellite Retrievals for GPM) at a spatial resolution of approximately 10km. It is possible that precipitation levels may have been underestimated for local areas, and is not a substitute for ground station measurements.
Estimated total rainfall accumulation for Mozambique 01 to 31 January 2016. Parts of southern Tanzania can also be seen. Image: UNOSAT


It is a similar situation in Madagascar, where the country is split between extreme rainfall in the north and drought in the west and south.

Between 02 and 03 February, 121 mm of rain fell in Antsohihy, Sofia Region and 95 mm in Fascene, Diana region. Recently, Fascene recorded 100 mm of rain in 24 hours between 05 and 06 February. Sambava in Sava Region recorded 69 mm during the same period.

Quoting figures from the country’s office of risk management (Bureau national de gestion des risques et catastrophes – BNGRC), the Madagascar Tribune said that there are 700,000 people affected by the drought in the south, whereas in the north 30,000 people have been affected by heavy rain that has brought a high risk of flooding and landslides.

However, there may finally be some signs that the rain is moving south. In the last 24 hours, Maintirano in the Melaky region on the coast of western Madagascar recorded 58 mm of rainfall in 24 hours between 05 and 06 February, 2016.

Reporting by Richard Davies, with input from Dr. Joshua Ngaina, a physical meteorologist working in Eastern and Southern Africa on climate related hazards, vulnerability and risk assessment.