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More floods could be on the cards for Johannesburg this year as southern Africa is battered by the effects of the La Niña weather pattern.
THE likelihood of more flooding this year in Johannesburg as well as in the rest of the country is high because of the La Niña weather pattern.


Areas such as Soweto are prone to floods leading to destruction of propertyAreas such as Soweto are prone to floods leading to destruction of propertyThe La Niña climate system is the cold counterpart to the well-known El Niño phenomenon. El Niño heats sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This influences atmospheric conditions such as rainfall and temperatures. La Niña does the opposite by cooling sea surface temperatures, which also influences rainfall and temperature.

These weather systems occur periodically. The South African Weather Service notes on its website: “The southern part of Africa generally receives below-normal rainfall during El Niño years and La Niña usually brings normal or above-normal rainfall.”

Scientists at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre have identified summer 2010/2011 as a La Niña year, and have warned of increased risks of flooding in southern Africa. They completed an update at the end of last year, reporting: “The La Niña event that emerged mid-June 2010 has developed into a moderate to strong event, and is expected to last through the first three or four months of 2011.

“These forecasts for an unusually wet coming three months in the region coincide with southern Africa’s rainy season, meaning that flood risk is heightened there.”

In Johannesburg, certain areas are particularly vulnerable. “Every square metre of the city is at risk of flooding,” says Percy Morokane, the emergency management services (EMS) spokesperson, “but obviously low-lying areas are most at risk. Areas like Klip River, Klipspruit, Kliptown, Meadowlands, Dobsonville and around the Jukskei River are at particular risk.”

EMS officials are on the alert for flooding and are ready to take preventative measures. “Nothing beats planning and preparedness for any eventuality, and we are lucky that we have a very good relationship with the South African Weather Service, which gives us early warnings that make evacuation possible,” Morokane explains.

“This is the reason for the zero fatality rate in the 2009 Soweto floods. We have a firm disaster management strategy in place to deal with eventualities such as disease from stagnant flood water.”

Previous experience will also play a role in how EMS handles crises that may arise. “It is not about bragging, but we learned a lot from our experiences in Pakistan last year, which will help us deal with anything that will happen.”

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