‘Why we should be wor­ried about El Niño’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

WORLD lead­ers meet in Paris, France from 30 Novem­ber to 11 De­cem­ber 2015 to sign a new cli­mate change agree­ment to be im­ple­mented in 2020. The Paris deal would re­place the Ky­oto Pro­to­col adopted in 1997 and ef­fected in 2005. Signed in the Ja­panese city of Ky­oto, the Pro­to­col ex­tended the 1992 United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change. The Con­ven­tion com­mit­ted sig­na­to­ries to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions, which are be­hind global-warm­ing and the pre­vail­ing shift­ing weather pat­tern. Global warm­ing and cli­mate change de­scribe the cen­tury-scale rise in the av­er­age tem­per­a­ture of the earth’s cli­mate sys­tem and its re­lated ef­fects.

Last week, the Le­sotho gov­ern­ment an­nounced the coun­try was ex­pect­ing its worst drought in 43 years due to a weather phe­nom­e­non called El Niño. The ad­verse weather is an­tic­i­pated be­tween Septem­ber 2015 and March 2016, and would shorten the farm­ing sea­son, lead­ing to re­duced agri­cul­tural out­put.

In this wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, Le­sotho Times ( LT) reporter, Pas­cali­nah Kabi speaks with En­ergy and Me­te­o­rol­ogy Min­is­ter Selibe Mochoboroane, on the coun­try’s ef­forts to mit­i­gate and adapt to the shift­ing weather pat­tern.

LT: Last week you spoke about a phe­nom­e­non called El Niño and that it is re­spon­si­ble for the se­vere drought this coun­try is go­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence this farm­ing sea­son. In lay­man’s lan­guage, what did you mean? What is El Niño and its re­la­tion­ship with cli­mate change?

Mochoboroane: El Niño is a cli­mate cy­cle in the Pa­cific Ocean with a global im­pact on weather pat­terns. The cy­cle be­gins when warm wa­ter in the western trop­i­cal Pa­cific Ocean shifts east­wards along the equa­tor to­wards the coast of South Amer­ica, leav­ing south­ern Africa fac­ing ex­ces­sive heat, thun­der­storms, drought and light­ning. Le­sotho, as part of south­ern Africa, is not im­mune to this phe­nom­e­non.

How­ever, th­ese weather pat­terns can only be re­ferred to as El Niño if they oc­cur con­sec­u­tively for more than seven months. The cur­rent El Niño will run un­til the end of Fe­bru­ary 2016, but I can­not say we will ex­pe­ri­ence nor­mal weather af­ter that date.

Be­cause of the ef­fects of cli­mate change, we no longer have nor­mal weather pat­terns. Nev­er­the­less, it is im­por­tant for our peo­ple to know we are still an­tic­i­pat­ing a bit of rain­fall be­tween Novem­ber and De­cem­ber. This means all hope is not lost as we will still be able to plant some crops de­spite the fact that the ex­pected rain­fall is go­ing to min­i­mal.

For in­stance, if Maseru used to ex­pe­ri­ence 200-mil­lime­tres of rain­fall dur­ing a nor­mal rainy sea­son, this time around, we are only go­ing to have 100-mil­lime­tres.

I must men­tion that while the ef­fects of El Niño are go­ing to be dire in the south­ern African re­gion, Cen­tral Africa will be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing floods dur­ing this pe­riod.

Our re­gion en­joys heavy rain­fall when there is La Niña. La Niña is as­so­ci­ated with cooler than nor­mal wa­ter tem­per­a­tures in the Equa­to­rial Pa­cific Ocean, un­like El Niño which is as­so­ci­ated with warmer than nor­mal wa­ter. In short, both El Niño and La Niña are the re­sult of cli­mate change.

LT: Why should Ba­sotho be ter­ri­fied of El Niño when this coun­try has wa­ter in abun­dance and we are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some rain­fall?

Mochoboroane: You must re­mem­ber that Le­sotho de­pends on rain­fall for its farm­ing and the cur­rent weather con­di­tions sim­ply mean we will not be able to pro­duce enough food to last us the en­tire sea­son.

How­ever, we still have an ad­van­tage over other re­gional coun­tries as we have wa­ter to drink; our suf­fer­ing is not go­ing to be as des­per­ate as Botswana and South Africa.

Be­cause of its dry ter­rain and desert, Botswana started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing wa­ter short­age at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust while South Africa pleaded with us to re­lease wa­ter into Mo­hokare river so they could ac­cess it from there.

Com­ing back home, Mafeteng and Mo­hale’s Hoek are the most af­fected be­cause they are desert-like. By now, we should be hav­ing wa­ter re­serves ready to sup­ply th­ese two dis­tricts with the pre­cious com­mod­ity.

Maseru’s ad­van­tage is Me­to­long Dam which has the ca­pac­ity to sup­ply it with wa­ter, as well as Berea and Morija. Due to this drought, we are ex­pect­ing peo­ple to suf­fer from fever, di­ar­rhoea and mal­nu­tri­tion. We are also ex­pect­ing to see some species like fish de­creas­ing at an alarm­ing rate but as gov­ern­ment, we must be in a po­si­tion to help our peo­ple. That, in a nut­shell, is why we should all be wor­ried about El Niño.

LT: How pre­pared are you, as gov­ern­ment, to en­sure or­di­nary cit­i­zens are not hard-hit by El Niño?

Mochoboroane: As a min­istry, we be­came fully aware of El Niño in Au­gust but ad­vised our­selves that it would not be wise to in­form and alarm the na­tion with­out strate­gies on how best we could min­imise its ef­fects.

We then warned min­istries of Agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity, Health, Forestry and Wa­ter, as well as the Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity (DMA) which falls un­der the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice, to pre­pare them­selves for the loom­ing drought.

Col­lec­tively, as gov­ern­ment, we have since come up with strate­gies on how best we can ad­dress and min­imise the ef­fects of this drought. We will be­gin to sup­ply hun- ger-stricken com­mu­ni­ties with food as soon as we are alerted of the need to do so; we will not wait un­til peo­ple die. Where there is a short­age of wa­ter, we will im­me­di­ately sup­ply the wa­ter; where medicine is needed, we will move swiftly to ad­dress such a prob­lem.

You will also be aware that rel­e­vant min­istries are also en­gaged in dam-dig­ging projects to en­sure when we ex­pe­ri­ence low rain­fall in Novem­ber/de­cem­ber, we will be able to cap­ture that wa­ter. Com­mu­ni­ties are also ad­vised to col­lect as much wa­ter as pos­si­ble at their homes dur­ing this pe­riod.

El Niño will not have a huge im­pact on Le­sotho if, as gov­ern­ment, through dif­fer­ent min­istries, we re­li­giously do what is ex­pect-

ed of us dur­ing this time and af­ter.

LT: How is your min­istry go­ing to en­sure all the other stake­hold­ers also do their part to mit­i­gate the ef­fects of this El Niño?

Mochoboroane: My role as head of me­te­o­rol­ogy is to con­stantly brief cabi­net on new de­vel­op­ments con­cern­ing this El Niño; this will en­sure this is a joint gov­ern­ment ef­fort.

Mak­ing this a na­tional pri­or­ity will make things eas­ier for rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers to act and the min­istry of fi­nance to re­lease fund­ing tar­geted to ad­dress the ex­pected ad­verse weather con­di­tions.

Jointly, we must fur­ther go all-out and hold aware­ness pro­grammes to sen­si­tise the na­tion about the cur­rent weather pat­terns.

Our other re­spon­si­bil­ity, as the me­te­o­rol­ogy min­istry, is to go out of our com­fort zones to ed­u­cate the na­tion about cli­mate change as it is a new phe­nom­e­non. We must move fast and en­sure we are ready for any cli­mate change af­ter­math.

We must stop al­ways be­ing shocked and not know­ing what to do when we ex­pe­ri­ence light­ning and hail­storms, leav­ing our cit­i­zens home­less and with­out enough food to eat. The Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity must be em­pow­ered with enough resources to an­tic­i­pate and pre­pare for such af­ter­math and al­ways be ready to move in and help our peo­ple.

Se­condly, no child or herd-boy must be killed by hail­storm or light­ning be­cause they were not aware of the pre­dicted weather.

Herd-boys must be sen­si­tised to stop graz­ing their live­stock at Maphaka-tlali (places that at­tract light­ning) dur­ing the rainy sea­son for their own safety. We have rolled-out train­ing on cli­mate change re­port­ing as we be­lieve with­out the buy-in of dif­fer­ent me­dia houses, we will not win this bat­tle.

LT: What is gov­ern­ment do­ing to en­sure or­di­nary cit­i­zens own and cham­pion cli­mate change adap­ta­tions?

Mochoboroane: Since this is a sen­si­tive is­sue af­fect­ing real peo­ple in our vil­lages and com­mu­ni­ties, Health and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment min­istries are very key in this fight. The two min­istries have well-es­tab­lished struc­tures in the vil­lages such as coun­cils, chiefs and vil­lage health work­ers. Our cli­mate change ed­u­ca­tion and em­pow­er­ment pro­grammes will di­rectly tar­get th­ese struc­tures. They are per­fect fa­cil­i­ties to ed­u­cate peo­ple to al­ways wash their hands af­ter us­ing the toi­let and be­fore han­dling food, even a fruit, for in­stance. Chiefs and coun­cil­lors will con­stantly ed­u­cate herd-boys about places to avoid due to their vul­ner­a­bil­ity to light­ning, as we have such places in Le­sotho.

LT: But how do we ex­pect peo­ple to al­ways wash their hands when they have to pre­serve the pre­cious liq­uid?

Mochoboroane: Prepa­ra­tions are at an ad­vanced stage to have tankers placed in ar­eas stricken by wa­ter short­age. Th­ese tankers have been made in such a way that wa­ter is re­pro­cessed there and then and that there will be no wa­ter lost. That way, we will still save the al­ready lim­ited wa­ter while ap­ply­ing good hy­gienic prac­tices at the same time.

Un­for­tu­nately, we only have seven tankers sit­u­ated at WASCO (Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Com­pany) at the mo­ment. But due to the sever­ity of the drought we are an­tic­i­pat­ing, we will have to en­sure more tankers are pro­cured and trans­port wa­ter to dif­fer­ent ar­eas of our coun­try. How­ever, we will now need the ex­per­tise of WASCO of­fi­cials on this one.

LT: Go­ing back to cli­mate change, does Le­sotho have a cli­mate change pol­icy to fa­cil­i­tate the do­mes­ti­ca­tion of in­ter­na­tional pro­to­cols like Ky­oto?

Mochoboroane: No; and un­for­tu­nately, it is not only Le­sotho which does not have a cli­mate change pol­icy. We have es­tab­lished that all SADC (South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity) coun­tries do not have cli­mate change poli­cies.

We have sourced fund­ing from UNDP (United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme) that will be used to de­velop our do­mes­tic cli­mate change pol­icy. The en­tire SADC re­gion will learn from us be­cause if one does not have a guid­ing tool, one walks in the dark and is un­able to achieve what­ever goals are be­ing tar­geted.

There is an ur­gent need for Le­sotho to have a guid­ing tool re­gard­ing this phe­nom­e­non. Prepa­ra­tions are at an ad­vanced stage as we have en­rolled the ex­per­tise of SADC to help us de­velop the pol­icy. My ex­pec­ta­tion is that 18 months from now, we would have pro­duced a vi­able cli­mate change pol­icy.

Be­cause of its dry ter­rain and desert, Botswana started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing wa­ter short­age at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust while South Africa pleaded with us to re­lease wa­ter into Mo­hokare River so they could ac­cess it from there. Com­ing back home, Mafeteng and Mo­hale’s Hoek are the most af­fected be­cause they are desert-like. By now, we should be hav­ing wa­ter re­serves ready to sup­ply th­ese two dis­tricts with the pre­cious com­mod­ity.

Min­is­ter of en­ergy and Me­te­o­rol­ogy selibe Mochoboroane.

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