Southern Africa is enduring a very wet rainy season. This ReliefWeb map shows that the north and northeast sections of otherwise arid Namibia are experiencing major flooding, particularly the region of ephemeral drainages and pans called oshana in the densely populated north of the country. I lived on the western fringe of the oshana area in 1992, a drought year. Floods are part of the natural order in this part of Namibia during years with good rains. What is happening there now is a 50 or 100 year flood that is inundating communities and raising concerns about a looming humanitarian disaster. Already there have been outbreaks of disease and heavy damage to crops in the few areas of this arid country that are normally able to support cereal production.
According to a 1992 publication of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia entitled Oshanas, Sustaining People, Environment and Development in Central Owambo, Namibia, the central oshana area was submerged 3 million years ago beneath a vast saline Lake which if it were filled today would constitute the third largest lake in the world. Covering an estimated 70,000 square kilometers with a maximum depth of 40 meters, it would have been about the size of present day Lake Victoria in East Africa. Changes in climate and river diversion due to plate tectonics lead to the drying up of the lake, the creation of the vast Etosha salt pan, and the seasonal flooding called the Efundja that occurs along the Cuvelai basin that flows over the oshana country and occasionally reaches Etosha.
When the Efundja comes it gradually transforms the hot white landscape into a network of sluggish streams and deep pools supporting an astonishing array of aquatic life and wetland dependant species, including over 19 different species of fish and even crocodiles. Portions of Etosha Pan can even be covered in 10cm deep water, providing breeding habitat for tens of thousands of lesser flamingos.
This year, the Efundja has come in fast flowing waves, and most of Etosha is under water. So is much of the central Oshana region, which is also heavily populated. The main road between Oshakati and Ongwediva is very close to being cut off by floodwater. The government-owned newspaper New Era reports:
"Residents of Oshakati East and West constituencies as well as those of Okatana Constituency towards the south up to Uvudhiya Proper south of Oshana “are completely cut-off,” and food and other necessities are now being flown by helicopter to these areas.
Cattle herders are also stranded and the Oshana Regional Council has already lodged an appeal to EMU for intervention as a flood relief measure for thousands of those affected.
By yesterday afternoon, water was running towards Omatala Open Market overflowing the tarred road on the Northern side of the road.
The water level at Oneshila informal settlement was above knee-level and Namibia Defence Force members are relocating residents and their belongings to higher ground."
The floodwaters are contaminated with human and animal waste, and people have been warned against drinking untreated water or consuming improperly cooked fish. The Namibian newspaper said on Wednesday:
"Cholera cases have already been reported in the Engela district.So far one death has been attributed to the waterborne disease, and four cases have been positively diagnosed as cholera.
The Director of Health in the Ohangwena Region, Kaino Pohamba, told The Namibian yesterday that all cholera victims identified at Engela recently were from either Angola or from Namibia's border town of Oshikango.
She said that there were another 72 suspected cases of which 13 were close to being diagnosed as positive.All the cases have been transferred to the Ohangwena Clinic to be kept in isolation there.
Pohamba urged villagers not to drink efundja water. She said they should boil it before either drinking or using it, as water had overflown from sewerage oxidation dams in flooded areas.
Many villagers do not have proper toilet facilities and often relieve themselves behind bushes. Pohamba advised people to take spades and to dig deep holes to bury their faeces to help avoid them contaminating the floodwater.
Cholera is transmitted through dirty water. She also issued a warning to those eating fish caught in the oshanas.It was vital to cook the fish properly she cautioned, citing water contamination. Fish are abundant and many people are desperately catching them - for own consumption or to sell to get money to buy food and other items.
Many people who have been displaced by the floodwaters do not have food, or enough food, and are ignoring health warnings.Some are even using mosquito nets to catch fish. Pohamba also told The Namibian that they were very concerned about clinics that have been cut off by the floods."
Meanwhile, along the desert South Atlantic coast of Namibia and South Africa, a ferocious outbreak of a "red tide" plankton bloom, largely dinoflagellate algae, has created extremely anoxic conditions has driven marine life into the shallows in a desperate search for water they can breathe. A bonanza of the claw-less lobster known locally as crayfish (Kreef in Afrikaans) has been gathered from the beaches where many have walked out of the sea, far exceeding catch limits. The cold Benguela current makes this marine environment one of the most productive worldwide, but overfishing, spectacular plagues of jellyfish and spreading dead zones threaten a system collapse.