Aging dams and missed warnings: A lethal mix of factors caused Africa’s deadliest flood disaster
The massive flooding in central Africa in July 2020 is considered to be the deadliest flood disaster in the region’s history. The disaster claimed more than 320 lives and caused immense destruction in countries like Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, with enormous financial losses. The disaster was caused primarily due to the failure of a dam in a neighbouring country, the Republic of Congo. An infrequently used dam, built in 1966, collapsed after months of above-average rainfall caused the reservoir to fill up rapidly. Local authorities had warned residents to evacuate the area but were largely ignored. The dam failure has prompted some experts to raise concerns about aging dam structures in the region, and how these could pose a disaster risk in the face of increasingly extreme weather associated with climate change. Poor maintenance of such dams, as well as a lack of warning systems, are among the issues identified by experts. The reliance of the region’s population on subsistence farming, and the difficulty of providing warnings in remote areas, has further compounded the issue. In the wake of the disaster, authorities have pledged to better manage their dams and strengthen early warning systems to mitigate future risks.