More than 1 000 people have been “relocated permanently” from 32 flood-prone villages in Caprivi, as Namibia’s most northerly province prepares to meet a Zambezi River swollen to near-record size for this time of year by torrential rains upstream.
Local media reported that 1 021 villagers from the Kabbe constituency, a low-lying district along the Zambezi River in eastern Caprivi, had been taken to the Katima Mulilo Rural constituency.
“We started transporting them at the beginning of this month and the last group was moved to higher ground last week. They were all transported by road to the Salambala, Bukalo and Lusese villages,” the Kabbe constituency’s regional councillor, Raphael Mbala, told the Namibia Press Agency.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a regional situation report published on January 26 that the Zambezi River at “Katima Mulilo (the provincial capital) is predicted over the next 7 to 10 days to reach critical levels.”
In recent days the Zambezi Basin had “received substantial rainfall”, with an increased “likelihood of above average rainfall over much of southern Africa” before the end of January, OCHA said.
“The Zambezi River will likely have reached levels in the range of 3,5m to 4m at Katima Mulilo. At this level, the river starts to overflow its southern banks and to inundate the eastern part of the Caprivi Region between the Zambezi and Chobe channels. Access to this area will soon become difficult,” OCHA warned.
The current level of the river at Katima Mulilo was the second highest on record for this time of year since 1980, when it peaked at 3,19m.
“Considering the present flows upstream (in Angola and Zambia), Katima Mulilo will likely reach at least 6m, and possibly higher levels, if upstream flows continue rising as a result of more rains occurring in the catchment,” OCHA said.
In 2004, when the region experienced its worst flooding since 1958, the river passed the 7m level at Katima Mulilo and the subsequent flooding affected 50 000 people.
The Zambezi River, the continent’s fourth largest, rises in Zambia and flows through Angola, along the borders of Namibia and Botswana, and into Zambia again, then along the Zimbabwean border and through Mozambique, where it reaches the Indian Ocean about 150km north of the port city of Beira.
The Namibian Red Cross Society, in a three-day pre-assessment survey of flood-affected areas in the Caprivi between January 22 and January 24, detailed rising floodwaters and disaster preparations in eastern Caprivi.
“Schuckmansburg (about 50km west of Katima Mulilo), Muliwa Island and villages in the northern parts of (Caprivi) are now surrounded by floodwaters . . . there is need to relocate all villages surrounding Schuckmansburg, including the schools, with urgency,” the pre-assessment report said. A site that can accommodate about 4 600 people has been established.
In the Kasika area, the Chobe river had burst its banks and there was “poor water supply, the wells available have salt water”.
Saara Iipinge, a spokesperson for the Namibian Red Cross, said that the number of people affected by the flooding would only be available on January 31.
The volume of water flowing down the Zambezi River caused the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) to open the gates of the Kariba Dam on January 22, “releasing 4 200 cubic metres of water a second, and thereby necessitating releases from Cahora Bassa Dam (downstream in Mozambique), which increased its discharge from 1 900 to 3 600 cubic metres a second,” OCHA said in its report.
On January 25 an Institutional Red Alert was declared in the central and southern regions of Mozambique, and OCHA noted that “Forecasts for the next seven days indicate intense rains above 100mm in the central region and also increasing in Maputo (the capital) to 40mm to 50mm.”
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) cautioned in its Mozambique Food Security Outlook January through June 2011, released on January 27, that “the floods may negatively affect crop production (in the Zambezi Basin), which may affect food availability for the consumption year (April 2011 to March 2012), although recovery is possible following the floods.”