Predictions suggest floods will get worse through the season

Hanna Butler, IFRC

It is an unusual situation this early in the year, and predictions are it is only going to get worse.

That is the general consensus in northern Namibia as water levels in the Zambezi river basin have reached record highs that are normally only seen in April. Flooding in the Caprivi region has already affected 20,000 people, destroyed crops, and inundated communities. With more rain forecast upriver in Angola, it is likely that conditions will worsen downstream.

The Namibia Red Cross Society has been working with the government to evacuate villages, moving people to camps on higher ground, and providing them with shelter and relief supplies. Of the 20,000 people affected, an estimated 12,000 are homeless, and many are now sharing tents with up to four other families. With access difficult due to flooded roads, people in the camps are totally reliant on outside aid. They are in urgent need of food, mosquito nets, blankets, and water purification tablets.

The camps are well laid out, but the sanitation and hygiene situation is very poor, says Dr Michael Charles, programme coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “In Nankuntwe camp there are no latrines at all, and for three days prior to my visit, there was no water at the camp until the government rehabilitated a borehole.”

To manage these risks, local Red Cross volunteers are promoting hygiene and sanitation practices in camps where water for washing is scarce. Malaria is a growing problem, as stagnant flood waters surrounding the camps become a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Another major concern is for those living with HIV who cannot access medical treatment. Others have medication, but they don’t have enough to eat, so they interrupt treatment because of the nausea it causes when taken on an empty stomach.

Dr Charles says getting basic immediate relief to people is paramount at this stage of the response. Further distributions of relief items by the IFRC and the Namibia Red Cross Society will start in the coming week, as will the construction of latrines in the camps.

It is a situation that is not expected to end soon; one just has to look at the tents which are now being turned into classrooms so children can continue their schooling over the next four months.