A boy walks through damaged crops in Liyoyelo Village. Effects of the seasonal flooding of the Zambezi River in Zambia's Western Province. Credit: James Oatway / OXFAM.
The rains have arrived much earlier than usual in western Zambia.

Zambia’s extended flooding season

On the flood plains of western Zambia the annual rains and the flooding of the Zambezi traditionally herald prosperity and are a key cultural event in the lives of the Lozi people.

The flooding makes the lowlands more fertile for grazing livestock and cultivating crops and is traditionally seen as a life-affirming annual event. But in the last two years, the rains have arrived much earlier than usual, and the floodwaters have risen to cover even the high ground to which the villagers usually retreat, resulting in hunger, disease and the loss of hard-earned possessions.

Lost homes and livelihoods

In Liyoyelo village, the Liywalii family has returned after an absence of four months. The floodwater has sloughed away the clay walls of their house waist high, leaving just the bare ribs of reeds and wooden poles. “In December the rains came very fast. Within 12 hours the whole yard was flooded. This is the first time we have ever seen that,” says Liywalii Liywalii, 29.

“Our house was completely destroyed. Our maize crop is gone and we lost our blankets and clothes because we had to leave so quickly.” Liywalii prods at a couple of sheets of corrugated zinc on the ground. “The wind blew away the zinc from the roof. I will have to save up to buy more – that will take about three years.” 

A doorway is all thats left of a house destroyed by floods in the village of Soola. Effects of the seasonal flooding of the Zambezi River in Zambia's Western Province. James Oatway / OXFAM.The floods not only destroyed their crops but also their precious seeds, leaving them without the means to plant again. They survive on the tiger-fish Liywalii catches each day, but it is not enough to feed their three children.

The seasons have changed

This is the second year in a row that the water has risen so high, but although the family fears they will be flooded out again next year, moving away permanently is not an option. “This is our land, this is our ancestral village,” says Mukelabai.

“The seasons have changed,” says Bennet Imutongo Sondo, 74, the second Induna (headman) of Liyoyelo village. “This is a very big disaster.” Hunger is not the only danger faced by his village – as the waters recede; illnesses such as malaria and diarrhoea are on the increase. He gestures to the sheets of stagnant water still standing around the village: “Now we have malaria because of these mosquitoes. Toilets are destroyed in the high water, and we drink water from the river. Fishing means you just survive – it is not a way of living.”

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