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Drought is a normal part of southern Africa’s climate and one of the most important natural disasters in southern Africa. In fact, it is becoming increasingly unusual for drought not to occur somewhere in southern Africa each year. The dependence of most southern African economies on rainfed agriculture emphasizes the importance of drought early warning products for short- and long-term decision making in various sectors of the national economies of the region. Following the 1991–92 drought, which ravaged more than 80% of southern Africa, many in southern Africa now realize the value of meteorological information in weather-sensitive decisions. Requests for advanced drought information have come to the drought monitoring center from a wide spectrum of users, including farmer groups, donor agencies, finance houses, politicians, economists, the media, and hydrologists. Information has been requested for precipitation predictions for periods ranging from ten days, to seasons (in the case of farmer organizations), to as long as four to five years (in the case of agricultural financing institutions). The creation of a regional drought monitoring center (DMC) in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1989 (the DMC opened in 1991) was long overdue, according to some farmers’ representatives, nongovernmental organizations, universities, government departments, and other regional and international organizations. Many of these organizations have called for the enhancement of the DMC, including increases in manpower, more computer hardware and software, and applications-oriented research to enable the center to develop into a regional center of excellence in applied meteorology and to act as a regional climatological data archive and backup facility.
Will all this awareness and support that the DMC has enjoyed live through nondrought years? Laing (1994) cautions about the possibility of apathy after a few years of good rains. Wilhite (1992) has also given similar warnings; these warnings need to be taken seriously by all those who have supported drought monitoring institutions in the past.