Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

After months of floods, Namibia begins clean-up

As flood waters in northern Namibia subside after nearly four months, residents are slowly repairing their homesteads, harvesting the few remaining crops and sending children back to school.

”At first it was nice not having to go to school, because the floods prevented classes,” said 12-year-old Tangeni Shivute.

”But I missed my teachers and being with the other children.”

He lives in a small village tucked behind newly woven grass walls and in the shade of tall palm trees characteristic of the flat, white-sanded plains around Ondangwa, 70km from the Angola border.

Schools are supposed to be on holiday now, but after floods forced closures across the region, thousands of students now sit in class to catch up during the break.

”They must not fall behind with the curriculum and be up to date come June,” said regional education officer Adam Ngulu.

More than 200 schools were closed because they were surrounded by water or because young children were too small to walk across the huge flat pans — locally known as oshanas — filled with water one metre deep.

These shallow pans have no real river beds. As unusually heavy seasonal rains hit Namibia and neighbouring Angola earlier this year, the waters silently filled the oshanas.

Once they were full, even more rain connected the oshanas to form vast shallow lakes stretching for kilometres and taking months to dry up.

At least 102 people have died since January in the worst flooding since 1972, which has affected about 600 000 people across northern Namibia.

Namibia’s government says it will cost about two billion Namibian dollars ($240-million) to clean up and repair infrastructure to prevent future disasters.

”I have lost all my millet crop because the flood put my field under water for weeks,” said Hileni Amunyela, a middle-aged widow living near one of the region’s few main roads.

”It is too late now to plough with my two oxen and plant again,” she said as she looked over the blackened plant stalks that had only grown knee-high when the floods hit in February.

Millet — the staple food called mahangu — is a traditional crop that the 600 000 Oshiwambo-speaking people, who populate this part of Namibia, brought with them when they settled here 400 years ago from the Great Lakes region, according to historians.

Amunyela’s neighbours are helping out with extra millet they managed to save from last year.

”My two sons work in Windhoek and send me remittances every month, so I can buy up mahangu to feed me and my teenage daughter over the next months,” she added.

The government’s latest damage estimate said 20 000 people lost 49 000 hectares of crops while about 9 000 livestock died. Nearly 82 000 people need food rations over the next months.

Subsistence farmers find some solace watching their few cattle getting fat from the lush grass growing now, but others blame bad town planning and poor drainage for roads built across oshanas during dry years.

”I grew up here in Ondangwa and the last big flood was in 1972 and again only in 2008, followed by this year’s worse flood,” said Johnny Ipinge, who works for a guesthouse here.

”Now the population has grown. People build their shacks and brick houses anywhere, even in the middle of an oshana, not thinking of possible floods.” – AFP



Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Local elections: Water tops the agenda in Limpopo’s dry villages

People in the Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality, who have to collect water from Motse River, are backing independent candidates because they’re tired of parties’ election promises

Careers the Zondo state capture inquiry has ended (or not)

From Vincent Smith to Gwede Mantashe, those named and shamed have met with differing fates

More top stories

Nigeria’s palm wine tappers face stiff competition

Large companies such as International Breweries and Nigerian Breweries are vying for the population’s drinking money

Covid-19 border closures hit Zimbabwe’s women traders hard

The past 18 months have been tough for women cross-border traders, who saw their income vanish when borders closed

Local elections: Water tops the agenda in Limpopo’s dry villages

People in the Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality, who have to collect water from Motse River, are backing independent candidates because they’re tired of parties’ election promises

A bigger slice of the pie: Retailers find ways to...

The South African informal economy market is much sought-after, with the big, formal-sector supermarkets all looking to grow their share

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…