February 14, 2017 / 8:58 AM / 6 months ago

Mozambique, South Africa brace for cyclone during peak maize season

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A tropical storm heading for the coast of southern Mozambique is expected to develop into a cyclone with winds of up to 118 to 165 kms (70 to 100 miles) per hour, the South African Weather Service said on Tuesday.

Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries which is in the throes of a debt and financial crisis, is prone to flooding and is especially vulnerable after a scorching drought last year, as soils degraded or hardened by dry spells do not easily absorb water.

Heavy rains could also impact subsistence maize farmers at a time when Mozambique is one of several countries in the region battling an infestation of crop-damaging fall armyworms, an invasive species with a taste for corn.

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization on Tuesday began a three-day emergency meeting in Harare regarding the armyworm invasion, which has threatened crops in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.

The South African Weather Service said that Tropical Storm Dineo would likely reach the cyclone stage early on Wednesday before making landfall around midnight near Inhambane, a popular diving and fishing resort town in southern Mozambique.

Rains from the tropical system would move into South Africa's lowveld on Thursday, affecting sugar-growing areas and the Kruger National Park, before moving westwards on Friday.

Reporting by Ed Stoddard. Editing by Jane Merriman

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