Forecasters predict return of La Niña Meteorological Services Department (MSD) head of forecasting Mr James Ngoma said it was too early to speak of greater chances of a La Nina for Zimbabwe and the entire Southern African region.

Sifelani Tsiko-Environment & Innovations Editor

GLOBAL weather forecasters say there is a significant probability that La Niña, a climate phenomenon that usually brings more rainfall in Zimbabwe and most other southern African countries, could develop later in the year, boosting hopes for a better 2024 – 2025 cropping season.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and other global weather bureaus project that El Nino conditions that caused the 2023 – 2025 drought will likely end by August triggering a transition to a weather pattern characterised by unusually cold temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, La Nina, which often lead to wetter conditions in the region.

Modelling by the WMO, the Australian, Japanese, and US weather bureaus all say that sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific have been steadily cooling since last December, shifting from the weather patterns of El Niño which brought a drought that ravaged Zimbabwe and most other southern African in the 2023 – 2024 farming season.

The El Nino, one of the five strongest in history, also resulted in heat waves that affected the Southern Africa region.

A WMO update says there is about a 60 percent chance of El Niño persisting during March-May and an 80 percent chance of neutral conditions (neither El Niño or La Niña) in April to June.

The UN agency says there is a chance of La Niña developing later in the year, a suggestion that dove-tailed with Japan’s weather bureau pointing to a 60 percent chance it would occur by November. 

US forecasters said there was a 69 percent chance that it would develop during July-September while the Australian weather bureau predicted a 50 percent chance.

La Nina events arise from cooler sea surface temperatures in the Pacific while warmer sea surface temperatures result in an opposite weather phenomenon called El Nino, which resulted in a drought and searing heatwaves Zimbabwe and other countries experienced last year.  El Nino is a warming of Pacific waters that is typically accompanied by drier conditions over the Southern African subcontinent.

Prospects of a La Nina later in the year could bring relief to millions of people facing hunger and water shortages as a severe drought sweeps across much of Southern Africa.

Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi have all declared drought national disasters and have launched appeals for food aid to support millions of hungry people.

In Zimbabwe, the latest official figures show that 6 million people in communal areas and 1,7 million in cities and towns require food assistance; 6,6 million people need help in Zambia after the country experienced the driest farming season in more than four decades while about nine million people in Malawi are struggling with the devastating effects of floods and drought caused by El Niño.

Zimbabwe has appealed to the United Nations, aid agencies and individuals for US$2 billion, Zambia US$900 million and Malawi US$446,74 million to deal with the drought and avert food insecurity for millions of people caused by an El Nino-induced drought.

Zimbabwe’s cereal production is forecast to nearly halve because of the drought hampering efforts to bolster its Strategic Grain Reserve.

The country has removed Value Added Tax (VAT) on rice and potatoes, relaxed importation restrictions on maize, wheat and other basic food items as part of measures to mitigate against the impact of the current drought.

Zimbabwe’s economic growth is also projected to slow to 3,5 percent in 2024 from 5,5 percent in 2023 owing to a devastating drought.

Vast swathes of the region — including Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Namibia are also grappling with a prolonged dry spell.

Southern African countries are now all vulnerable to climate change despite being responsible for a tiny fraction of global warming-related pollution.

Meteorological Services Department (MSD) head of forecasting Mr James Ngoma said it was too early to speak of greater chances of a La Nina for Zimbabwe and the entire Southern African region.

“Winter is usually dry, let’s wait for summer, then we can speak of wetter periods. A comprehensive report for winter is coming soon. Let’s wait for August when the seasonal forecast for rainfall is done,” he said.

“A comprehensive report for winter will be issued soon.”

Rainfall deficits in most southern African countries will have substantial and adverse impacts on grain harvests and push millions into food insecurity. This El Nino weather pattern has also affected agricultural production and other key sectors like tourism, water supply, industry and energy production.

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