Namibia: Recovering from the worst floods in 46 years

14 May 2009

Since early 2009, torrential rains and severe flooding in the north-central and north-eastern regions of Namibia have killed almost 100 people. Out of over 350,000 people who have lost their livelihoods, more than 55,000 have been displaced. The loss of lives, homes and businesses, and the damage to crop fields, schools, health and other social facilities prompted the country’s President, Hifikepunye Pohamba, to declare a state of emergency on 17 March 2009.

The rainy season in southern Africa runs from November to April and, as such, the floods were anticipated and contingency funds allocated accordingly by the Government. However, it is widely agreed that the extent and severity of the flooding were unexpected. In two regions, Kavango and Caprivi, for instance, the Chobe, Zambezi and Kavango rivers reached water levels not recorded since 1963. These three rivers, and the perennial Cunene River, are also fed by rains and tributaries originating from Angola and Zambia, thus exacerbating the flooding downstream and in the Namibian flood-plains.

In response, UN agencies assisted the Government meet the most urgent humanitarian needs, including the provision of emergency food, shelter, sanitation and health facilities. They also participated in the preparation of a Flash Appeal for US$ 2.7 million to support the Namibian Government’s response to immediate and medium-term humanitarian needs of the 350,000 affected people. To shorten this humanitarian phase and lay the foundation for longer-term recovery, UNDP will soon be launching early recovery activities in the country in partnership with the World Bank and other partners.

“The flood waters are receding as we speak and many of the affected areas have already been vacated, so that if more flooding occurs, fewer people will be affected,” says UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr Simon Nhongo. “We have already raised some US$ 1.3 million from our Central Emergency Response Fund, and partners such as the Botswana, German and US Governments have also contributed to the Appeal. But, since the damage has already been done, the bigger task of recovery and rehabilitation is ahead of us and will run into millions of US dollars. To lessen the impact of the rains that will surely come next year, it is essential that we start to build back better now.”

In addition to disseminating information to domestic, regional and international partners and mobilising resources for emergency coordination, UNDP support has extended to coordinating and monitoring relief and recovery efforts of the UN system in the country. In recognition of the disaster risk management (DRM) needs of the country, since 2006 UNDP has been providing technical support to the Directorate for Emergency Management (DEM) with the services of a DRM Specialist. The Directorate is located in the Prime Minister’s Office and is mandated to coordinate national disaster mitigation and response. Specifically, the DRM Specialist assists the Directorate to develop gender-inclusive DRM policies and programmes that include risk analysis, emergency preparedness, contingency and response planning, monitoring and impact assessment of the Government’s response.

During the 2008 rainy season, at least 42 people were killed, and a cholera outbreak occurred. As part of its response at the time, UNDP received satellite imagery from the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs to assess the impact of the floods. This year, acquisition of these images and the use of Earth Observation and Remote Sensing Technology have been instrumental in both mapping vulnerability to the floods and in the response effort.

This year, in addition to Namibia, the heavy downpours have affected populations in Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

More information: UNDP and Early Recovery