The Zambezi shows its might

In Namibia at least 90 lives have been lost and 350,000 people affected.

Photo: Zambia VAC
Floods devastating infrastructure

Namibia has launched an operation to rescue schoolchildren marooned by floodwaters at a boarding school in the country’s northeastern Caprivi Strip.

Dorkas Kapembe-Haiduwa, secretary-general of the Namibia Red Cross, told IRIN: "Boats have been sent to the village, Muzee, but we don’t know have an idea of the numbers [of schoolchildren stranded]."
Rapidly rising water levels in the Zambezi, Chobe, Kwando and Linyati rivers meant more than 19,000 people have had to be evacuated from the Caprivi Strip and relocated to eight camps.
Relief efforts have been hampered by a shortage of tents for the displaced and about 6,000 people were without shelter, Kapembe-Haiduwa said. "The tents that are being used are old and tattered and the rain is pouring through them."
The Zambezi River, which rose to record levels, has begun to subside and rains have eased in Caprivi’s neighbouring Kavango region, where 2,000 people have been relocated to six camps.
The Namibian government has declared a state of emergency and released US$10.9 million for disaster response efforts. It is distributing tarpaulins, blankets and 140,000 water purification tablets.
The UN is expected to make a flash appeal in the next few days to help Namibia deal with the flooding.
In neighbouring Botswana the authorities are taking precautionary measures as rising waters in the Okavango Delta, an inland river system which terminates in the arid Kalahari, threaten an outbreak of waterborne diseases.
Water levels in the delta have risen to their highest levels since 1939, the District Commissioner for Ngamiland, Beneddette Malala told local media.
No fatalities or injuries have been reported, but a surge in waterborne diseases in the area has forced the deployment of health officials, and swamped crop fields are likely to cause future food shortages. 

Photo: NASA
An image of the flooded rivers in the western part of southern Africa taken by NASA’s Terra satellite on 25 March, 2009

"A team of five public health specialists has been mobilized from the Ministry of Health. The team will provide technical assistance on waterborne diseases that are likely to occur due the Okavango River floods," said Botswana government spokesperson Jeff Ramsay. 
Schooling has been disrupted, and students ordered to stay at home; people working in the fishing industry, a major economic contributor in the area, have been advised to halt their activities for the time being. 
Botswana’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) has dispatched relief aid, including tarpaulins, shelter kits, water-purifying tablets, blankets, bales of second hand clothing, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, soap bars and jerrycans.
Government has advised people in affected areas to move to higher ground. "There are some homesteads that are resisting [relocation], while others want to do so when the situation gets severe," Malala said.
Nathan Morule, who works in the capital, Gaborone, but was originally from Shakawe, north of the Okavango Delta on the border with Namibia, told IRIN: "I drove home [to Shakawe] on Sunday [22 March] evening to pick up my family and move my belongings to Kasane [on the border with Namibia’s Caprivi Strip].
"The situation there [Shakawe] is very dire. The government says the floods will worsen. There have been floods before, but those who saw them say it has never been like this. I saw it with my own eyes – houses, offices, fields, roads, just everything is submerged in water. Everyone just cannot understand what is happening," Morule said.
Heavy rains in Zambia are stoking cholera in the country, according to an update by the UN Disaster Management Team on 27 March. The provinces most affected by flooding are Western, Eastern, Lusaka, Central and parts of Northern.
"The cholera situation had marginally improved, but is on the upswing again due to the continued rainy spell. In the Southern Province, Siavonga district has reported new cases of cholera and there are also reports from Eastern Province, in the rural areas," the update said.
The health ministry reported 6,624 cases from September 2008 to 26 March 2009, of which 140 were fatal.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a regional report released on 27 March that flooding in Angola had killed in 21 people and affected 200,000 people in the provinces of Cunene, Kuando Kubango, Moxico, Malange, Bie, Huambo and Lunda Sul. 

''In some instances, military air and boat rescue have been required to evacuate the worst affected and isolated areas''

"The number is likely to increase once assessment teams are able reach areas made inaccessible by the floods. In some instances, military air and boat rescue have been required to evacuate the worst affected and isolated areas," the update said.
The government has set aside US$10 million for flood response measures and is also providing six cargo planes to deliver emergency supplies.
UN agencies have already allocated US$ 600,000 of their own funding, "However, given that the number and needs of affected is likely to increase, UNICEF [the UN Children’s Agency], WHO [World Health Organization] and IOM [International Organization for Migration] have issued a US$ 2.3 million CERF [Central Emergency Response Fund] request to secure additional funding," the report said.