Namibia: Major flood threat after early rains

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 9 March 2007 (IRIN) - Officials evacuating residents displaced by early flooding in Namibia's Caprivi Region, in the far northeast of the country, fear the situation could worsen, as more heavy rain is expected. The floods have already displaced 13,000 to 15,000 people, said Bernard Sibalatani, Governor of Caprivi.

"The rains have come too early; we normally experience floods in April. We have been told that more rain is on its way, so we are very concerned," he added.

Torrential rain in neighbouring Angola has caused the Zambezi River to burst its banks and spill onto the floodplains in the Caprivi Strip in the past few weeks.

Patrick Karanja, emergency coordinator of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Namibia, said they feared the worst. "We might experience the worst floods ever in 20 years."

The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Network (FEWS-NET) said in its latest update on the region that heavy rainfall in and around the Caprivi Strip has brought water levels to heights not normally seen this early in the season. "This has raised serious concerns about the severity of flooding that normally occurs later, in March and April."

Although the water level of the Zambezi has begun to fall, more flooding is possible because the river is still very swollen.

The Zambezi, Southern Africa's longest river, rises in northwestern Zambia makes a loop in Angola, re-enters western Zambia and then and flows along the edge of the Caprivi Strip before turning north to delineate the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and finally makes its way through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean.

The Caprivi Strip is often flooded when Angola receives heavy downpours, most recently in 2004, when devastating floods displaced over 50,000 people.

Villages outside Katima Mulilo, regional capital of the Caprivi Strip, have been submerged, and parts of the constituencies of Kabbe, Linyanti and Kongola in eastern Caprivi are flooded. Sibalatani said affected villagers had been evacuated with the help of boats, and three helicopters were monitoring the situation.

Karanja commented, "A lodge outside Katima Mulilo has been completely submerged and other hotels along the Zambezi have also been affected." Three fish farms on a state-run aquaculture project were reportedly also under water.

According to the Namibia Early warning and Food Information Unit (NEWFIU), the maize-producing region of Caprivi had been receiving good rains, brightening the forecast for a good harvest, but the flooding could have adverse effects on the flowering maize crop. Sibalatani said the flood had already destroyed several maize fields.

Ironically, northern Namibia has been experiencing dry spells and NEWFIU has forecast a drop of more than 50 percent below the 2006/07 crop estimate, which would force it to import cereal during 2007/08.

"Conversely, South Africa, which is the largest producer of white maize and Namibia's grain procurement point for commercial imports, is facing poor harvest prospects this year," the unit warned in its report released on Friday. "Reduced harvests in South Africa could be problematic for Namibia's increased commercial import needs, particularly as prices for maize could escalate."