Saturday, October 16, 2010

Okavango’s resurgent floods test disaster management

Thabani Okwenjani in IPS: Despite early warnings about higher-than-usual flooding of the Okavango Delta [in Namibia and Botswana] in 2010, homes, fields, latrines and boreholes in the delta were flooded. Beginning in May, gradually rising waters destroyed crops, disrupted the water supply and sanitation facilities, threatening public health with increased incidence of malaria and diarrhoea.

The flooding marks a return to high water levels last seen thirty or forty years ago, and even with advance notice, local government’s disaster management strategy proved inadequate to the task. Dr Piotr Wolski, Associate Professor at the Okavango Research Institute (ORI) of the University of Botswana in Maun, who is an expert in hydrology, says he warned government already in April of the risk of severe flooding in the area, but nobody paid heed to his advice.

Wolski was able to predict the advent of the flood because he had been studying the delta’s weather patterns for years. He says the flood was caused by cyclic weather patterns and not by – largely unpredictable – climate change.

OKACOM executive secretary Eben Chonguiça tells Fransiska Thikerete that joint fact-finding has helped Angola, Botswana and Namibia to build a basis of trust and enable balanced choices over development in the Okavango River basin can proceed. "It looks like there is a lot of flooding this year, but when you look back 30 years, these floods are not exceptional," he notes.

According to Wolski, the flooding in the delta is based on a 30-year cycle of flooding and drought which has been occurring for the past 800 years. After having experienced drought for three decades, the delta is now likely to enter a 30-year-period of flooding, he reckons….

Fishermen in the Okavango Delta, shot by NickSS @flickr, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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