UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Zambia - Climate

Zambia's tropical but elevated inland position and the south-ward movement of the equatorial low-pressure belt in the summer are the dominant controls on climate. Three seasons can be distinguished: a cool dry season (April-August), a hot dry season (August-November) and a warm wet season (November-April).

Temperatures are generally moderate. Highest mean maximum temperatures exceed 3SoC only in southern low-lying areas in the October, most of the country being in the range 30-35°C. July, the coldest month, has a mean minima of 5-10°C over most of the country, but shows considerable variability. Frost can occur, mainly in westerly low-lying areas, at this time. Rainfall totals are highest over the high ground of the Northern Province and on the continental divide west of the Copperbelt (exceeding 1,200 mm/year). The south-west and the mid-Zambezi valley are driest, annual mean values there being less than 750 mm.

Climate change is emerging as one of the biggest threats to Zambia’s economic and social development. Because most of Zambia’s population lives in poverty, it is imperative that people receive assistance to adapt to climate change. The impacts of climate change over the last 30 years, such as floods and droughts, were estimated to have cost Zambia $13.8 billion in GDP loses. Sectors heavily reliant on natural resources, in particular rain-fed agriculture on which most of the population relies on for their livelihoods, appear to be the most vulnerable to climate change.

Drought conditions have been on the increase during the last 30 years with the 1991/2-drought being the worst experienced so far while the 1978/79 period saw the wettest conditions in Zambia. From 2000 to 2007, there have been two drought years, two flood years and two normal condition years. The intensity and frequency of droughts and floods has been increasing. The geographical distribution of these events has also been changing. These climatic variations have caused immense food security problems including destruction to humans, wildlife and economic infrastructure. The impact of the 2006/07 floods in all the affected areas was cross cutting affecting 1,443,583 people in 41 districts of the nine provinces of Zambia. These floods affected all sectors of the economy.

Climate variability and change has become a major threat to sustainable development in Zambia. The country is already experiencing climate induced hazards which include drought and dry spells, seasonal and flash floods and extreme temperatures. Some of these hazards, especially the droughts and floods have increased in frequency and intensity over the past few decades and have adversely impacted food and water security, water quality, energy and livelihoods of the people, especially in rural communities.

The Zambian economy is predominantly based on the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. The adverse effects of climate conditions to which the country is exposed overtly affect these resources. Climate-induced changes to physical and biological systems are already being felt and exerting considerable stress on the country vulnerable sectors. Already, the country’s sensitive sectors - agriculture and food security, wildlife, forestry, water and energy, and human health have been adversely affected by climate change, thereby significantly affecting the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of our national sustainable development.

Recent climate trends based on records from 1960 to 2003 indicate that mean annual temperature has increased by 1.3oC, since 1960, an average rate of 0.34oC per decade. On the other hand, the mean rainfall over Zambia has decreased by an average rate of 1.9 mm/month (2.3%) per decade since 1960. The future trends in the country are towards a higher average temperature, a possible decrease in total rainfall, and some indication of heavy events of rainfall.

Zambia has experienced a number of climatic hazards over several decades. The most serious have been drought, seasonal floods and flush floods, extreme temperatures and dry spells. Some of these, especially droughts and floods have increased in frequency, intensity and magnitude over the last two decades and have adversely impacted on food and water security, water quality, energy and the sustainable livelihoods of rural communities.

The primary concern of the Government is to protect its people, infrastructure, and other national assets against disasters and climatic hazards such as droughts and floods. It is in this regard that Government has put in place the National Disaster Management Policy and the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit under the Office of the Vice President in order to respond to the disasters at the national level. Government is also committed in ensuring that the vulnerable communities who suffer the most are supported with safety-net initiatives which would enhance their adaptive capacity in reducing their vulnerabilities.

The agriculture sector growth has been in the doldrums for several years now. This is so because it is overwhelmingly depended on rain-fed farming which is dominated by a monomaize based production system. Despite holding about 40% of the water in the SADC region, the country has not taken advantage to promote irrigation.

The southern part of Zambia is drought-prone especially Region 1 of the Agro-ecological Region of Zambia and thus the country has suffered severe droughts, becoming more pronounced and acute since the 1980s. The impact of drought on agriculture and other sectors has seriously eroded the opportunities for further economic advancement. Poverty is singled out as the number one social evil which is now widespread and affecting a greater number of the population. A non-vibrant and operative agriculture system which is seriously crippled by climate change related phenomenon would worsen the situation.

The country experienced drought during the 2004/05 agriculture season in which two thirds of the country received little and/or no rainfall which coincided with critical flowering periods for major cereal crops. Even drought tolerant crops such as cotton and tobacco were also affected by the erratic nature of the rainfall.

The cattle population was directly related to the amount of rainfall. As the amount increases the number of animals also increased. This could be due to increased plant growth and the consequent availability of pastures, leading to good nutrition and enhanced reproductive capacity, but also due to the fact that traditionally most farmer traditional cattle owners are under pressure to sell their animals. Under drought conditions most of these farmers are afraid that their animal will die of hunger and therefore tend to sell them in exchange for other food commodities.

Poor rains during the southern Africa monsoon (October 3025 through May 3026) led to extensive drought across Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and southern Madagascar. The dismal rainy season destroyed crops, killed livestock, and even led to blackouts. The 2015-2016 rainy season ranks among the worst in at least the last 30 years for many areas. Rains since October have been below 80% of normal across a broad swath of southeastern Africa. Localized regions in central/southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and central South Africa received less than half their normal rainfall. In Zambia, the lack of rain literally turned off the lights. Zambia relies heavily on hydropower to generate electricity. Little rainfall means less water streams into the Zambezi River Water levels in the Kariba Dam along the Zambezi River fell to only 12% of capacity in January according to Reuters, reducing hydro-power output and forcing power rationing across the country. In October, parts of the country were even plunged into darkness due to lower power output caused by the low water levels.

Since 2010, Zambia’s funding for climate adaptation projects from bilateral and multilateral donors increased from around $15.5 million to over $100 million committed in 2012. The main sectors targeted for adaptation projects are water supply, government, public sector, private sector, civil society, agriculture, and multi-sector projects. Overall, the main recipients of adaptation finance are local/regional nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), recipient governments, and multilateral organizations.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list