Multi-Pronged Disaster Hits Caprivi Villagers

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By Chrispin Inambao KATIMA MULILO Thousands of flood-affected villagers in the Caprivi Region have to endure the seasonal headache of malaria-bearing mosquito – breeding in pools of rainwater – while simultaneously having to tackle problems caused by herds of roving wild animals. Reports of several lone bull hippos migrating into dams that have formed inland far away from their traditional habitat are on the increase. This newspaper saw evidence of this peculiar new trend in the river giants. New Era also spotted a lone hippo splashing in Masikisiki, a seasonal lake at Sachona, while being watched by a bunch of children. Though recent good rains appear to have enhanced the prospects of bumper yields for maize, millet, sorghum, watermelon and pumpkin, villagers bemoan the fact that their crop is devoured by free-ranging hippos, buffaloes and elephants whose numbers are increasing. At Limombo Village in the Malengalenga area, 58 fields of maize, millet, pumpkins and watermelon have been under water since early January because of heavy rainfall. To make matters worse the water level is rising and the inhabitants of this village are concerned that more crop fields would get flooded. James Mutabelezi, the Chairman of the Village Development Committee (VDC) at Limombo, a cluster of several mud and thatch huts, says though crop fields in that area only get covered with water if there is above-average rainfall, this year’s flooding is on the scale of the historic floods recorded at Malengalenga in 1958, 1964 and 1978. Wet conditions have manifested themselves in an increase in the numbers of houseflies, while the masses of mosquito in that locality have gone up to unprecedented levels. Malengalenga residents, who are too poor to afford insect repellents, now resort to burning dry elephant and cow dung to repel mosquitoes – when they go to bed. Recently, Mutabelezi told New Era that members of his community, a stronghold of the Linyanti Constituency because of its high population density, will need food assistance because floods have ruined their crops and that they require some water-purification tablets, drugs to treat malaria and some blankets. Water purification tablets are needed to purify the water being contaminated by running rain water that deposits human faeces and other contaminants into sources of drinking water that are normally uncovered. Villagers at the sleepy settlement located 120 km southwest of Katima Mulilo said they now draw water from high-risk water sources because their water pump is broken down. Another problem which they feel is getting out of hand is the one concerning so-called problem wild animals such as elephants, hippos, and buffaloes from a reserve in game-rich Botswana that are destroying their crop fields more especially at night. One victim of these nocturnal crop invasions had his maize field ravaged by a herd consisting of over a hundred buffaloes. The ravenous beasts lay waste to a maize field that could have yielded 300 bags of the hybrid variety, each weighing 50 kg. Though the villagers hid from the beasts by seeking refuge in an extensively damaged hut, they had the rare privilege of witnessing a female buffalo giving birth to a calf. They are disappointed by the fact that when the occurrence was finally reported to the Environment and Tourism office at Katima Mulilo, the game warders dispatched to the scene only scared away the buffalo herd by unleashing several rifle volleys into the air. The Regional Councillor for Linyanti Constituency, Dorothy Kabula says people are starting to starve because of the combined effects of the floods and the crop being damaged by the wild animals. She says only villagers living in and around gazetted conservancies receive some compensation for their troubles, while those resident in areas not located in such conservancies are excluded by the compensation scheme. Apart from the big game competing with villagers for their crop, troops of monkeys are reported to have caused extensive damage to fields of pumpkins and watermelons. One innovative communal farmer strategically placed several scarecrows around his maize field with the intention of scaring off wild animals. The inhabitants of Sangwali, a settlement southwest of Katima Mulilo, are in a predicament similar to residents of neighbouring Malengalenga. When New Era visited that village recently, accompanied by the Regional Councillor for Linyanti, over 10 fields were under water and the trend was growing. Lucius Lilata Maezi, the Chairman of the Village Development Committee at Sangwali is of the view that it is the first time in recent history that the area is being flooded. Apart from the floods, Bodrick Munyandi, a villager at Sangwali lost a two-hectare maize crop to hippos from the Linyanti River. January Ndubano Lukwa also fell into the same pit because he also lost a two-hectare plot of corn to hippos. Maezi says his people are urgently in need of blankets and food, all damaged by rainwater. At Lianshulu and at Sauzuo the situation is the same. At Muyaluke Village at Sachona, 20 people relocated over a fortnight ago because heavy rains flooded their houses. Those compelled by floods to shift are now living with their relatives at Kandiana, Sibumbu, Sipango, Kasheshe and Ngonga. Ten huts are also now under flood water at Sipango and the floods have spread to Sachona where several teachers are presently housed in classrooms. The only consolation at Sachona appears to be the fact that the pools of water are ideal for the breeding of frogs. And villagers are seemingly salivating at the prospect of harvesting this delicacy. Since teachers sleep in classes, a directive was issued for grade 1 and grade 4 pupils to attend afternoon classes instead of the morning sessions in order to make room for the teachers. Unprecedented flooding has also affected Sibbinda Constituency, where several teachers were recently made homeless when their mud houses collapsed. If any aid is sourced for this group of people, it should also come in the form of tents and mosquito nets. At Mafuta in Katima Rural Constituency many houses are reported to have been flooded. One interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that the waterlogged areas are located outside the flood-prone Constituency of Kabbe in the lower-lying Eastern Caprivi zone. Officials from the Regional Emergency Management Unit (Remu) at Katima Mulilo have already started undertaking a needs assessment survey to ascertain communities’ wants.