Namibia: Red Cross wraps up operations in Caprivi

Emergency response operations are almost over in Caprivi region where approximately 5,000 people were displaced and 15,000 affected by floods following incessant heavy rains that hit the area in March this year. The flood, the worst to occur in almost half a century in Namibia's Caprivi Strip, left a trail of destruction to property and disrupted the functioning of the communities in the region.
The Namibia government, Namibia Red Cross with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent rushed in to rescue many people whose lives were under threat from the flooding Zambezi River. The government evacuated people from the worst affected villages, and relocating them to safe areas, where the Red Cross provided them with shelter, blankets, mosquito nets, and water purification tablets to prevent the outbreak of diseases.

It is time to reflect for the people of Caprivi who have been camping at Impalila Island, Schuckmansburg, Kasika and Lusese A and B camps as they prepare to go back to their original homes. "I never thought we would experience a disaster of that nature as our home was far from the river," explained Miss. Rochester Manongwa Kahundu of Lusese camp A. "It was like a dream. We only saw helicopters and boats coming to rescue us from the rising water. And it's almost four months staying here in Lusese camp with my children without any problems."

Like many other members of the community, Rochester thought staying in a camp would put her family's life in danger. "When we were brought here, we thought it was going to be for two or three days, considering that there was nothing here except tents that we got from Red Cross. I was skeptical that bad things like diseases would happen to me or my children," she explained. "We left all our belongings, including our blankets. We did not know where to start from." Rochester, who is a single mother of two, was worried that her children would be vulnerable to cold, malaria and other diseases.

"It was only when Red Cross brought us blankets, water, mosquito nets that I felt a sense of relief and security for my children. Since I came here, I have never experienced any health problems with my children," she said after receiving three bars of soap and water purification sachets from Namibia Red Cross.

At the beginning of the emergency, Namibia Red Cross and the Federation's regional delegation urgently dispatched relief items to the affected areas in response to the needs of the flood victims. Red Cross staff and volunteers who were trained in providing health and hygiene education were also deployed in all the camps, while a local radio station was also used to raise awareness on health and hygiene issues. Several water sources were rehabilitated, whilst 5,000 litre tanks were installed to provide clean water at Impalila and Lusese camp.

"The Federation has developed a strong capacity in responding to emergencies. The early warning information that we got enabled us to better prepare for the Caprivi flood disaster. That is how we managed to keep cases of malaria other waterborne diseases low. We made sure that the affected people had access to safe water in time. Our health staff and volunteers were already on the ground to provide hygiene education as soon as they got a place to stay." said Mr William Corkill, the regional water and sanitation delegate. He however, attributed the success of the Caprivi flood disaster operation to the partnership that exists between the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, the Namibia government and other donors.

The European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) in partnership with the Belgium Red Cross provided nearly 155,800 Euro as relief assistance aimed at improving the health, water and sanitation to the affected people in Caprivi. "The assistance that we got from ECHO, USAID and other Red Cross societies enabled us to respond rapidly to the emergency and help save lives." The operation also got support from British, Danish, Monaco, Swedish and Japanese Red Cross societies.

Mr. Corkill was quick to point out that there is still a huge challenge awaiting the affected families, the government and Namibia Red Cross as most of the infrastructure was destroyed by the floods. "There is an urgent need to make funds available to Namibia Red Cross so that they quickly rehabilitate important infrastructure such as water sources. If this is not done in time, there is very high possibly of disease outbreaks."

However, for some the future looks gloomy as they have lost all their belongings due to floods. "Of course, we are happy to be going back home and restart our lives, but we are not sure how we are going to survive as our crops were swept away by the floods," said Mr. Sylvester Matengu, the chairman of Lusese camp B. Most of the people in the region rely on subsistence farming and supplement with fishing from which they earn meager income to pay for their children's education.

"We were told that Red Cross through the local authorities will allow those whose houses were destroyed to take the tents with them so that at least they have somewhere to sleep whilst they are making plans for the future. Otherwise without that it will be difficult for many people here," explained Mr. Matengu. He also appealed to the Namibian government to continue helping them with food until next year's harvest. "At the moment, we do not have anything to do to help ourselves, but as soon as we go back to our places, we will start selling fish as we used to do. We will still need food until next year's harvest."

Mr. Abel Hamutenya, the disaster management officer for Namibia Red Cross also indicated that, "a lot of work has to be employed by all concerned stakeholders to ensure the smooth return of villagers. Flooddisaster is not something new in Caprivi though this year's was much worse than the previous ones, resources have to be mobilized for the Red Cross to establish a long-term disaster preparedness system in the region. We could perhaps start with a vulnerability capacity assessment and take it from there".

It was indeed a challenging moment for the Red Cross team. But the job was successfully done and today, the Red Cross is proud to see these people going back to their original places. For many children, it was good news to be going back home as the camps were far from school, whilst their parents will be contemplating on the new challenges of rebuilding, hoping that the same disaster will not occur again in the near future.

For further information, please contact:

In Harare, Tapiwa Gomo, Information Officer Tel. + 263 4 705 166 / + 263 91 345 936