Flood Task Force Dragging Its Feet?

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK While the residents of Mariental should in the meantime brace themselves for possible flooding during the coming rainy season, the Task Force appointed to explore possible ways of preventing further flooding is still busy carrying out feasibility studies. Its report on how to deal with future floods might therefore be too late for this year. And with the rainy season just around the corner, the Governor of the Hardap Region, Katrina Hanse, and the residents of Mariental have expressed concern at the slow progress of the Task Force in coming up with immediate short-term plans to avoid likely future flooding. On Tuesday this week, the governor with her three-member delegation paid a courtesy call on President Hifikepunye Pohamba to brief him on the situation regarding constraints and progress made in the aftermath of the devastating flooding in February at the town. Mariental Mayor, Priscilla Beukes, Acting Chief Regional Officer of the Hardap Region, Charles Tjijenda, and the town’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Nghiwilepo accompanied the governor to State House. When the Head of State asked whether the Hardap Region was ready for the “big rains”, Hanse responded that she hoped that the rains would rather “come as a blessing and not as a disaster”. Speaking to the media after the visit, Hanse reiterated the concern. She said that in light of the approaching rainy season, not much has been done to address the immediate, short-term challenges in case of a possible flood. “The process is slow. The Task Force is slow with its activities and it could be sped up,” said Hanse, adding that she’s been informed that a full report in addressing future floods is due in July next year. “By the time the report comes, the rains would have come and gone,” she noted further. Early this year Hydrology Manager of NamWater, Andre Mostert, revealed that Mariental would be flooded again some time in the future. “It is going to happen again,” he said. Mostert said the western part of Mariental is situated in the town’s floodplains and unless residents moved eastwards, they would always be exposed to floods. Since the disastrous floods struck Mariental due to the overflowing of the Hardap Dam early this year, a high level task force comprising of water engineers, hydrologists and experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and NamWater was set up. Government soon thereafter availed N$10-million for restoring municipal services and infrastructure destroyed by the floods. The force is tasked with working out an emergency preparedness plan that could avert future floods. Its appointment in early March this year came after the Head of State directed the agriculture ministry to urgently assemble the Task Force to look into the issue, which was soon after the President visited the devastated town, the same week of the flood. However, Hanse informed New Era that besides being informed about the July 2007 Report, her council does not know the actual timetable and target dates of the Task Force with regard to their activities. “We are not briefed from time to time on their progress,” she added. In the meantime, Mariental Municipality and the town’s residents have been clearing up some of the debris and reeds in the tributary rivers of Aub and Samberg, but according to the Chief Executive Officer of Mariental, Paul Nghwilepo, they don’t have the proper machinery to carry out the bigger clearing works. “The Task Force has (so far) not done enough to allay the fears of residents. If they don’t do anything now … (it) will possibly be too late,” said Nghwilepo. It turns out that although the clearing up process is in place from the local authority’s side and plans to re-build the main road away from the flood-prone western side to the eastern side of the town are afoot, no immediate short-term measures are in place in case of possible flooding. Meanwhile, at the end of last month, the Task Force held an urgent meeting with President Pohamba at State House. Gerard de Merwe, Head Manager of the Hardap Corporation, which he represents on the Task Force, told New Era at the time that the bulk of the pledged N$10-million is presently with the Office of the Prime Minister and is expected to be made available for short-term infrastructure repairs at Mariental before the end of the year. “Physically, the money has not flowed into the town, but once we report to the Head of State on the progress thus far, we are optimistic that short-term repairs will be completed before the end of the year,” said Van der Merwe telephonically from Henties Bay. When contacted for comment on this issue, the Chief Executive Officer of NamWater Vaino Shivute only admitted that NamWater was part of the Task Force and referred the journalist to the Task Force Chairman Piet Heyns who could not be reached at the time of going to print.