Severe flooding affected two extensive areas in the North of Namibia during the month of March 2009. Sister Aine Hughes, Caritas Zonal Coordinator for IMBISA, who recently visited Namibia, gives an update of the situation, two months after the heavy flooding.
Numbers of people affected
Approximately 700 000 people have been directly or indirectly affected by the floods, and of these 40 000 have been displaced and are now housed in tents and makeshift shelters of plastic sheeting. Most of the tents are without ground sheets and mattresses have not been provided, resulting in people sleeping on blankets or grass mats which are placed directly on the sand.
Over 100 000 children have had their schooling interrupted. 218 schools have been closed for several months because some are submerged in water and others are inaccessible because the water levels make it too dangerous for children to cross to areas of higher ground where some of the schools are situated.
The floods claimed the lives of 92 people in total. This is also a major loss for families and community members.
Damage to livelihoods
The majority of the houses and homesteads built with clay bricks have been either partially or totally destroyed with the result that people are either homeless or their homes are now uninhabitable. According to reports, the floods descended so rapidly that people were unable to salvage except meager belongings; some had to abandon everything with only the clothes they wore, leaving them totally destitute now.
Crops which were almost ready for harvesting were totally waterlogged, resulting in the provisions which were anticipated for winter and the unproductive months, rotting in the ground, leaving the people without food in the immediate or the prospects of food for the future.
Many animals, which were a source of subsistence and a possible source of income, were also drowned, leaving many people without future prospects.
People who relied on the fishing industry were driven from the source of their income by the sheer scale of the flooding and as a result lost their source of livelihood and the income they generated from drying and selling fish.
Many other small businesses and small enterprises were either washed away or forced to close causing increased unemployment and hardship as well as the loss of trade opportunities.
Some clinics in these areas are either destroyed or damaged resulting in closure. This is detrimental to the health status of the areas concerned. Reduced or unavailability of health services put people on Anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, in particular, at serious risk. Monitoring of dysentery and cholera was also compromised to some degree and while there are some outbreaks in the camps, these seemed to be managed fairly well through the makeshift clinics in tents in the camps.
Damage to infrastructure
Sources of clean water for drinking and cooking have been either destroyed or polluted. Access to the rivers is impossible due to the flooding, so the people are subjected to severe water restrictions. The Local Authorities are trying to provide water to all the camps but due to the sheer scale of the operation, the number of sites to be supplied, and the shortage of mobile tanks to transport the water, many sites are inadequately supplied with drinking water. This forces people to rely on dubious water sources and increases the risk of water borne diseases.
As can be seen from the map, only the major routes are tarred. The area is predominately accessed by gravel roads and small bridges, most of which have been washed away with the floods. Transport is limited and where it is available it is immobilized by the condition of the roads and bridges. People however, are quite innovative and while there noticed that people had made small dug-outs and were using these to navigate the floodplain and in some instances to go on a fishing expedition. Some people managed to catch enough fish for their own consumption, dried the remainder and supplied the neighbours.
The role of Caritas Namibia
NACADEC /Caritas Namibia has been very involved in education and health care, especially HIV/AIDS work and has done remarkable work in these fields which is recognized and supported by national and provincial governments. Food security has also been a programmatic focus which has been very instrumental in ensuring that people were able to sustain themselves and their families, particularly in the rural areas.
Caritas Namibia, however, has not instituted any programs on Disaster Preparedness or Disaster Risk Reduction even though floods and droughts have been a feature of certain parts of the country for some time now. This is due primarily to insufficient resources in terms of personnel and financial capacity.
The impact of Climate change is having more severe effects on vulnerable communities in these parts of the country, who are dependent on rain- fed agriculture and subsistence livelihoods, therefore there is a need to facilitate the people to mitigate against impact of climate change where possible, and adapt to the variations in weather as a necessary step towards securing their livelihoods. There are also some simple technologies such as the introduction of housing using ‘soil-cement’ bricks to withstand rain and water damage.
Caritas’ role is in facilitating and training people in these techniques, to ensure their human dignity, build their sense of self –worth and self –esteem, so that they can work effectively together as community for the common good of all.
Caritas Internationalis has an Emergency Training Program which will be implemented to build the capacity of Caritas Namibia personnel and the people whom they serve. This is being planned for later in this year.
Immediate and urgent needs
In meetings with the Governors of both the Rundu and Caprivi, there was great appreciation for the role the Church played in mobilizing volunteers, encouraging local communities, parishes that were not affected and school children, to provide food, clothing and other basic necessities for those who are displaced. All these cooperated fully with UN Agencies and local government to respond to the needs and provide support. However, as the crisis faded from the spotlight and the urgency of the situation dwindled, much needed supplies and support also became less and less.
1. As winter approaches, there is an urgent need for warm blankets and clothing for the children to prevent hypothermia.
2. Most of the tents do not have ground-sheets and this poses a health risk, so bales of plastic sheeting are needed to create some form of insulation from the cold and damp.
3. Water purification tablets are critical now as people are forced to use polluted water sources and dysentery and cholera are a real threat.
4. Food rations are basic but not sufficiently balanced and it seems as time goes on these will decrease even further. With the onset of winter and the prospects of a harvest wiped-out, there is need for food supplements especially for the children to avoid long term damage to their health and development.
Caritas is in a position to facilitate the distribution of these through the diocesan and parish structures where the many volunteers are willing to offer their services.