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The flood of our generation; what can be done?

By Cde. Sioni Aluta Iikela
According to some senior citizens, each generation has got their one or more specific unique events that happen during their time. Just like our seniors will tell you about “Ondjala yekomba” (a deadly swiping drought), “omuvo gwoshivu” (the year of chronic disease), “omuvo gweembahu” (the year of locusts) and many stories they account to us; our generation (young generation) will also account what is happening now to our kids. This is basically an indication that each generation is characterized by different events.

Namibians has been experiencing some extreme features of natures such as drought in 2008 and this was followed by unprecedented floods that continued nonstop till this year. This year’s flood has been described by many as heavier than in previous years. The floods has been caused by good rains received in south of Angola, the main catchment area that feed Cuvelai Drainage System (CDS) with water. The rains received in the central northern region have also contributed to the floods experienced in the regions of Oshana, Omusati, Ohangwena and Oshikoto. The situation have left many people in distress and devastated due to the fact that many life and properties have been lost, destroyed, and submerged. Many public and private infrastructures such as houses, Mahangu field, school, clinics, churches, businesses and road networks have been severely affected. In three consecutive rain seasons, the government of the republic of Namibia declared the state of emergence and called for assistance from both local and international communities.

Again just like previous years, more generous assistances have been received from peaceful nations and development partners; May God bless them.

Our local business fraternities and some genuine none governmental organization (NGO)such as Red Cross Namibia came out to meet the government half way in making sure that our affected people are safe. The government through the regional and local government had to relocate people to higher ground and help them with tents and other basic needs. I must also thank the Namibia Defense Force (NDF) for reaching out to our people.

The SWAPO Party Youth League (SPYL) in Erongo region under the leadership of Cde. Laina Shapange, must be applauded for what they have done recently. The SPYL in Erongo region and the JMPLA of Angola organized a Gala Dinner to mobilize resources to help the flood victims in the north and northeast. This is what we need as young people, but not secrete meetings that some youth leaders and some seniors are reported to have been conducting to oust our SPYL leader.

I keep on asking myself, do we have to declare emergence every year while we do not improve our infrastructures to meet the situation that Mother Nature is exposing us to? It is very important for us as a nation to understand the situation at hand. What has happened? Why has it happened? When will it stop happening? To answer these “simple look” questions, a length research is needed to establish the trend of our climatic elements such as rainfall. The rainfall trend can be obtained from proper record of previous rainfall events over years.

However, I am afraid it will be difficult to obtain such information, because there is no available records on rainfall that can be traced back into some years back.

Some ecological scientists are arguing that what happened in Namibia is a sign of global warming, while others are arguing that what is happening is just nature revising itself. The latter ask some fundamental scientific questions like, what if the same events happened hundred years ago when we were not around. So, what I’m basically trying to say here is that we must record our natural events and have people studying these events to try and deduce meanings that will help us make proper decisions.

Northern regions of Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto Approximately 70% of this region is covered by the interlinked bare pans which form the Cuvelai Drainage System that run to Lake Oponono and end in Etosha Pan. The region is densely populated and people depend on the system for food, water, materials, and transport. It is imperative to mention that when water reach Etosha Pan which is not most often, it bring back life in the usually bare pan. Many birds including Flamingoes are attracted to Etosha Pan; according to the available literatures Etosha Pan is one of the main breeding sites in the world for Flamingoes, therefore great care must be considered when considering any development in or along the system. Take note, in the whole world, Flamingoes breed only in southern Africa; that is in Namibia (they breed at Etosha and Makgadigadi Pan) and in Botswana.

I must also mention here that the water that runs through our system to Etosha Pan does not reach the sea, and if the pan is full to capacity, “backward flow” is expected. I have observed this myself in 2000 when we received the first good rain in my life time. I believe it has also happened in recent years, only that I was not in the region during the rainy season.

The following are some of the Challenges that we are faced with namely: the trend of good rains and floods is high likely to continue for sometimes; encroachment of the CDS; unavailable of proper records or data; unavailable of local experienced ecological and metrological scientists, naturalists, anthropologists and historians; no proper understanding on the CDS (for example the capacity/volume of water that the CDS can carry without flood) and the catchments up stream (in Angola); no proper previous studies; financial constraints to those who are willing to understand the situation; Poor materials used in construction of our infrastructures.

Understanding the problem in the north and northeast (background)

The problem of floods in these two parts of the country is complex more than we think. It boils down to the cultures of the inhabitants of these regions. For example, people of Kavango and Caprivi rely on the floodplains of rivers such as Kavango, Zambenzi, and Chombe River for the cultivation of food. Social scientists are needed to understand the link between these people and the floodplains of the said rivers.

On the other hands, people in the north are settling in the water channels of the system and or in the lower-lying areas of the CDS. These people are settled by their traditional leaders; some decided to settle at areas because of close proximity to where their beloved one have been buried, or it is close to services such as clinics, schools, clean water, electricity and churches. The people are settling without considering what may happen in nature. People in the north who started families in recent years are the one most affected because they do not listen to what traditional leaders are advising them when deciding on the areas to settle. Equally, traditional leaders are losing values and have shifted their loyalty from their subjects to money. Some are somehow trying to use the traditional positions as form of employment.

What can be done?

The problem of floods in the north and northeast are natural phenomenon, hence finding the solutions to this natural phenomenon are highly impossible. It is therefore important for us to understand the difference between finding solutions and mitigations measures. Finding a solution is when you are trying to address a problem so that is cannot occur anymore, while finding mitigation measures is when you come up with strategies to lessen the impacts of a problem and maximize the opportunity thereof. I have observed through Medias that most of our people are more into finding solutions than mitigation measures and I believe we are not doing the right thing.

In trying to suggest some of the measures that I think can be workable, allow me to address north-central and northeast region separately.

North-central region Infrastructural development

The infrastructural development such as road networks, clinics, schools, hospitals, businesses and all property developments require proper planning. I suggest that planning of infrastructures must be done by well informed experts including engineers, ecologists, social scientists and local people. Most of our infrastructure do not goes well with the environment they were erected.

For example, the way that our bridges are designed is worrisome; why Namibian contractors are cheating the government? Are these people inspected when they are building our roads and bridges?

They are using poor materials and plans. It is disheartening to note that our business people are more loyal to money than the country and its people. I therefore suggest the government explore the chance of suing all contractors who built roads and bridges last year and they are already destroyed. Time has come that we build infrastructures that can absorb pressures from natural events. Time has come that we build bigger bridges to allow water to run freely through these bridges. The reason why water has been overflowing from the Cuvelai Drainage System is because we have been encroaching the system and has become thin;

hence water cannot run through freely any more. Planning of town also need more ecological and engineering attentions. For example, Oshakati town is situated in the heart of the system, that’s why its locality is developmental unfriendly. It is important for the town planner (s) to consider the following: to build up the height of the town above the sea level, to divert the channels that run through the town or excavate and meander the channels.

It is important to note that these will be very cost measures to implement as it requires in-depth ecological studies, and equipments.

Traditional leaders

The traditional leaders need to be trained on how to allocate lands to their subjects. It appears that some traditional leader have lost the value of traditional authority. Currently, traditional leaders allow people to settle in the area very prone to flooding. In most cases it is the subjects that convinced the traditional leader to give him/her the land, by giving them money and later the same person will blame nature when he/ she hit by flood.

General awareness

It is important that people understand the environment where they are living. This will help the people to make well informed decision when it comes to occupying an area and erecting expensive structures. I therefore suggest that the Ministry of Environment train identified local people especially youth who will be then used to train their fellow villagers.

Building of dams

One of the mitigation measure that I feel will work in our favor is building of dams; one in each region OR one bigger dam at the border of Namibia and Angola. It is key to mention that a proper study must be carried out to determine the carrying capacity or volume of water that the system can carry. This will help in the planning of the said dams. The dams must be design in such a way that in the years of poor rainfall and absence of flood, the water can be allowed to run downstream so that our system’s life cannot be destroyed. The dams’ water can be used for irrigation purposes and this might create the much needed job opportunities to our local people. It is important to note that the geological formation of these areas may play an important role in implementation of this suggestion; therefore inputs from geologists must be sought. If the geology of the north central part is not good for building dams, another option is to excavate the Omuramba-Owambo River and build a dam somewhere along the river or where the river end.

Omuramba-Owambo River is endorheic; it did not reach the sea and it run eastward.

Northeastern regions

It is important that social scientists are dispatched to these regions of the country to try and understand the attachments that our people have to the floodplains in the region. The workable suggestion to this part of the world is for these people to be permanently relocated to higher ground. The Kavango and Caprivi regions still have abundant of high grounds unoccupied. However, the cultures of our people that still need to be properly understood complicated the whole issue.

Finally, I would like to recommendation the following: proper planning and monitoring of our infrastructures; an independent body must be created for inspecting on behalf of the government all work on the public infrastructures; Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be carried out before any development; ecologists, environmentalist, naturalists, engineers, regional and town planners and government must work together when planning; efforts of different government’s ministries must be properly integrated; department of water affair must be moved to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, because as of now the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has neglected this department;catchment areas in Angola; and more scientific studies are needed to understand the climatic shift of our country in general;

more scientific studies are necessary to understand better the Cuvelai Drainage System and catchment areas in Angola; and more social studies are necessary to understand the cultures of people in the region of Kavango and Caprivi; and perhaps of the four regions in the north too.

A Luta Continua!
Cde. Sioni Aluta Iikela
SPYL secretary: Swakopmund District
Founder and Director: Namibia Environmental Protection


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