20 Jan 2023
Among several local words tourists quickly pick up when they visit Namibia is ‘oshana’. It is the Oshiwambo word for low-lying areas or depressions in the white sands among omulunga palm trees so characteristic for the north-central regions.
During a good rainy season water fills an oshana and provides welcome water supply for humans and livestock.
But strong rains cause an overflow and the water silently moves in a south-easterly direction along the sandy channels and causes flooding. The water often reaches the Etosha pan in Namibia’s most famous wildlife park.
In mid-January this year villagers in Namibia’s Ohangwena Region became aware of the rising water levels coming from southern Angola, where it rained a lot.
By 17th January several schools in the rural areas of Ohangwena had to be closed due to the floods, called ‘efundja’ by the locals. The government’s flood support has been rolled out.
“The water often surprises you because it moves silently. You go to sleep and the next morning your house is surrounded by water,” one villager told reporters.
The previous severe efundja was 2009 when hundreds of people had to be accommodated in tents and show grounds in Ondangwa and Oshakati.
The Cuvelai system is a natural drainage system in central southern Angola and stretches to Namibia. It does not have a river but rather many small waterways that are dry during for most part of the year. Due to the very flat and mostly sandy terrain, rain water fills the channels and iishanas and flows as far as the Etosha pan. In this way vast areas are covered in water, disrupting the daily lives of the rural population.
This year’s efundja again stirred the debate if this phenomenon occurs more frequently and is related to climate change or the El Nino event.
El Niño and La Niña
These two weather events in the Pacific Ocean also have an influence on Africa and the world.
El Niño means Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. South American fishermen first noticed periods of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean in the 1600s around Christmas...
During normal conditions in the Pacific Ocean, trade winds blow west along the Equator, taking warm water from South America towards Asia. To replace that warm water, cold water rises from the ocean depths — called upwelling. During El Niño, trade winds weaken. Warm water is pushed back east, toward the west coast of the Americas. The warmer waters cause the Pacific jet stream to move south of its neutral position. With this shift, areas in the northern U.S. and Canada are dryer and warmer than usual.
The Gulf Coast and Southeast however experience wetter periods than usual and have increased flooding. In early January, parts of Australia were again hit by severe floods after severe spells of drought.
La Niña (Little Girl) is the opposite and brings dry spells with sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean below average but high air pressure in the eastern Pacific and low air pressure in the western areas of the Ocean.
El Niño and La Niña can last for a few months but also several years. Several scientific studies have proven that both have an impact on the world’s climate with heavy rains and – in the case of La Nina – severe dry spells.
An El Niño event is called El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Oscillation is a back and forth movement in regular intervals.
While the general public was hardly aware about El Nino and La Nina some thirty years ago, but now entrenched in the public domain, scientists today debate whether climate change influences El Niño events or not.
It is believed however that El Niño events are stronger and often last longer and climate change seems to increase the frequency of extreme El Niño events.
The current rainy season in Namibia is alleged to be a La Nina event, hence bringing good rains.
The privately owned Namibia weather station
of Jens Vietor, which is powered by the Gondwana Collection, also has animated up to date information about El Niño and La Niña it receives from international weather services.
The La Niña phenomenon is currently very strong in western Australia which is still overwhelmed by floods in January 2023.
A brand new study, published in November 2022 has established that climate change will influence the El Niño-Southern Oscillation by 2030 – in just eight years’ time. This is about 40 years faster than generally anticipated.
The scientists have strongly appealed to countries to include weather patterns in their future plans.
In its 2021 climate risk profile for Namibia
the World Bank noted that temperatures will rise over the next thirty years.
“According to analysis from the German Climate Service Centre (GERICS) of 32 Global Climate Models (GCMs), temperatures across Namibia are expected to increase by 1.7°C to 5.4°C by the 2080s,“ the study noted.
“Maximum temperatures are expected to increase by 2.0°C to as much a 5.4°C. With minimum (night time) temperatures are expected to
increase from 1.5°C to 4.9°C by the end of the century. The duration of heat waves is expected to increase by 6 to
29 days by the 2080s; the number of cold days will significantly reduce.”
The study recommended among others that Namibia should establish a climate change resource centre and a climate change database.
So, next time you plan your holiday to southern Africa and Namibia, consider what time of the year and have a look at the Namibian weather station.
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