Devastation at Aussenkehr

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK A settlement area that is home to close to 1 000 people at Aussenkehr Farm was washed away by heavy floods last week Friday. Strong winds accompanied by rain have completely destroyed 200 shacks, washing them into the Orange River, leaving residents with practically nothing except the clothes on their bodies. Recent rainfall of between 60 and 95 millimetres over the surrounding Karas mountains collected in the normally dry river bed where these reed shacks were built, leading to flooding of the valley and total destruction of the settlement of farm workers. The Aussenkehr settlement where the seasonal workers reside belongs to the International Grape Company. Human resources manager of the company Frik Conradie told New Era: “all the furniture, clothes and personal belongings were washed away with the reed houses … it’s really terrible.” The company is currently busy assisting these affected workers by accommodating them in pack houses, whilst volunteers provide them with food parcels. “We are busy compiling a list of names of those people who lost their goods and we have also given our workers three days humanitarian leave to deal with the situation,” explained Conradie. Reports say that no lives were lost during the flooding. Permanent government structures, namely the clinic, police station and post office have been severely damaged as well. However, not so much damage has been reported on the grape crop in the far south, as the flooding was mostly experienced in the riverbed where the shacks were built. Yet Conradie confirmed that the irrigation pumps as well as the purification plants have been damaged as well. With reconstruction going on at the site, Conradie is hopeful that the pumps will be fixed, as “there may be collateral damage if pumps are not operating soon”. He added that the month of February is the hottest time of the year in the south and lack of irrigation could affect crop production negatively. The entire Aussenkehr area lies in a riverbed. It is lower than sea level and even though it does not rain that much in the area, when it does, most of the water collects in the dry river bed, with devastating results for grape companies’ workers. One such company is the Namibia Grape Company, where 25 percent of the 300 workers had to be given a few days off to deal with the ordeal. “We have given the workers off today (Monday) for the rest of the week so that they can put up their structures again on higher ground,” said Theo Amakali, senior manager of human resources at Namibia Grape Company. Over the years, workers who come mostly from the north to work on the seven grape farms could not be given permanent housing due to the fact that the village settlement area has not yet been proclaimed a town. As a result, the workers have to set up temporary structures in areas where heavy rains could be of danger to them, as in this case. The area where the latest flooding occurred was classified as “uninhabitable”, since it is in a dry riverbed. The same incident happened six years ago, which culminated in the residents calling for the urgent proclamation of the area as a town, so that they could receive permanent housing structures instead. Back in 2000, managing director of the International Grape Company Dusan Valijevic donated a 650-hectare piece of land demarcated for such permanent housing. This plot is adjacent to the one that was washed away. However, investors were not keen to commit funds to developing the erven because the area has not yet been proclaimed a town. The long wait has been blamed on the slow process of proclaiming the area a town over the years by the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development. “It’s been a big problem for a long time and we have been fighting for the last five years now. Nampower was also not keen to set up electricity, saying the area was not suitable,” said Conradie. Now, six years down the line and with the prominent first visit by President Hifikepunye Pohamba to the Karas Region at the weekend, residents plead-ed with the Head of State for the proclamation. The residents said in the words of Conradie: “Please, please speed up the building of the town.” So far, the land has been proclaimed through the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development and is only waiting for Cabinet’s approval later this year. However, as the residents of Aussenkehr learn to cope with the situation, more rain is anticipated by the Windhoek Meteorological Office in the southeastern and far southern parts of the country this week.