‘Blame the Weather’

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Says Dr. Vaino Shivute of NamWater By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK The Chief Executive Officer of NamWater Dr Vaino Shivute says the water utility cannot be held responsible for the floods currently sweeping the southern town of Mariental. Massive floods swamped Mariental over the weekend after NamWater opened the Hardap Dam sluice gates. Speaking to New Era yesterday, the CEO was adamant that high volumes of water had to be released from the Hardap Dam due to the massive inflow from the various catchment areas that had also experienced rain. “It’s because of the weather that Mariental is flooded. It should not be blamed on NamWater as it is outside our control. There was massive inflow during a short period of time exceeding the dam’s capacity. It should therefore be blamed on the weather, not us,” stated Shivute. In the aftermath of the massive floods at Mariental, there has been a flurry of accusations directed at NamWater for failing to manage the situation in a responsible manner. Another accusation was that residents were not given advance warning for evacuation. It was felt that NamWater should have known that they were going to release massive volumes of water that would over- flow into the town given past experiences where flooding took place in 1974 and 2000. “It’s poor planning from NamWater. The water should have been opened steadily every day instead of releasing it in huge volumes at once. We feel that NamWater is responsible,” said businessman John Endjala whose pig farm was swamped by water, on Sunday. However, Shivute stressed, “people must understand that it is a natural phenomenon that has hit Mariental. “We have tried to manage the situation to the best of our ability and that is why no lives were lost during the flooding.” Shivute emphasised that NamWater will not be held accountable for what happened in Mariental because there was no element of negligence in the way the water was released. “Our responsibility was to make sure that the volumes of water in the dam do not exceed its capacity, because if that happens the dam walls will break, resulting in an even bigger disaster,” said Shivute, adding that this bigger disaster would have caused the entire town to be wiped out and not just a part of it as had happened. According to NamWater, the latest incident occurred because of increased rainfall in surrounding areas that flowed into the dam. When the sluice gates were opened, the flow started off at a steady pace of 500 cubic metres per second. However, as the inflow increased into the dam, the amount had to be increased to over 3 000 cubic metres per second in order to avoid a much bigger devastation for the town at the end of the day. “We let out the water in a controlled manner to avoid a much bigger disaster where lives could have been lost. Why should NamWater be held responsible?” he asked, adding there was a steady increase in the pace at which the water was released from the Hardap Dam. Shivute stated that NamWater gave prior warning to all the relevant stakeholders about the opening of the sluice gates in order for the town’s residents to be prepared. “It is not NamWater’s sole responsibility to ensure that the town should be evacuated, because every region has an emergency management committee that should have such a plan in place,” he noted. Currently, the company has got measuring devices along the river that indicate how much water flows into the dam, but unpredictable rainy conditions in the outlaying catchment areas caused a massive inflow into the dam, leading to larger volumes of water being released. This is not the first time that Mariental has been flooded. The last time was in 2000. The latest incident is said to be the worst in terms of damage to property. Concern has also been raised over the town’s planning arrangement with regard to why houses were built in a water catchment area in the first place. “People are not allowed to settle in those areas where there is flooding. “If there was proper planning and foresight, people should not have been allowed into an area that is prone to flooding,” said Shivute. He stressed that there was nothing that suggested that NamWater could be held liable for damage caused to property and losses incurred by businesses at the town. “We don’t have money for this and we are not responsible for the flooding at the town,” was Shivute’s final answer to those accusing his company.