How Disasters Affect Development

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By Dr Moses Amweelo

Disasters, natural or man-made, are becoming more and more severe in the world. Population expansion and rapid industrialization are the main reasons.

In 1950, the world population was only 2.5 billion, but after 37 years in 1987, it had doubled; in 1995, it surpassed 5.7 billion. It is anticipated that world population will reach 8 billion in the 2020s.

However, it has evolved that food resources on earth can at most feed 8-10 billion people.

Due to population expansion, the human beings ask for more and more from nature by industrialization, causing land erosion, resource shortage, an energy lack, as well as ecological imbalances and environmental pollution, and as a result, economic development is hindered, human survival is menaced and disasters become more severe.

Endurable development will be hard in the future if this vicious circle is not broken. The other problem is with regard to the changes to the landscape.

Nature is undergoing continuous change. Running water, waves, glaciers and wind reshape the landscape, and tectonic processes such as land uplifts, create new areas of land.

This transformation has been going on for billions of years and will continue as long as the earth exists.

In Namibia, the most noticeable events in these natural changes to the landscape are rockfalls, rockslides and landslides.

One can decrease or eliminate the risk for loss of lives and other values due to landscape by:

– Detecting landslide risk areas.

– Being a planning/decision tool for taking adequate preventive measures against the landslide risk.

In Indonesia (2006) around 55 000 people were displaced by disaster, either because their homes were destroyed or from fear of more quakes and waves to come, while 269 people were missing and 400 were injured. The aid network in Indonesia, a vast nation of 220 million, has been stretched thin by disasters in the past.

We have also experienced natural disasters which will become more severe in some of our regions. In recent years, with quick economic development , man-made disasters are also becoming severe.

For example, in 2006 we experienced a bush fire that raged in the western part of the Etosha National Park, where more than 200 000 hectares burnt down. There were also many veld fires in different places in our country.

The natural disaster that in 2006 occurred in Mariental (Hardap Region) town destroyed people’s property. It was reported in the local newspapers that all of the 27 farmers working on the 2 200 hectares of land had damages ranging from crop ruin to immense infrastructure destruction.

Two of the farmers who had the most severe damage reported losses of approximately N$8 million to N$10 million each, while the lump sum collectively tops N$300 million.

The maize fields and grape vines are facing drought as the whole irrigation infrastructure has been destroyed. Twenty hectares of onion fields that were ready for harvesting perished in the floods.

The pump station of the Visser Boerdery collapsed (New Era, 1 March 2006, The Namibian, 01/03/2006).

The International Federation of Red Cross Societies (IFRC) launched an international appeal for five million euros (about N$50 million) of donations to support flood victims in Southern Africa, including the displaced people of the floods in the Oshakati area.

“Heavy rains are continuing in Namibia and people have been displaced in the Oshakati and Caprivi areas. An estimated 20 000 people have been affected and are in need of shelter and other relief items, mainly in the Oshakati area.” (The Namibian, 08/02/2008).

Disasters causing loss, several percent of GNP annually, is a great burden to Namibia’s economic development. Imagine that floods strike almost every year in Caprivi Region, water is polluted and farmland is reduced quickly – how can we develop our economy and promote social progress? Disaster reduction and preparedness work, including disaster education, would have a significant meaning for our country.

Disaster Education

In Namibia we need two strong chains of disaster education: One is the administrative management system at all levels, another is a great team of scientific and technological talents covering most subjects concerning disaster reduction, such as meteorology, seismology, oceanology, water resource, fire research, environment protection and preventive medicine.

It has been recognised that ignorance of disaster is the largest disaster for mankind, and the standard of massive understanding to disaster has been seen as a criterion of social civilization.

As a matter of fact, disaster consciousness for Namibian people is very weak – knowledge about disaster reduction and prevention is not popularized. We have many bitter experiences with regard to the floods which happen at least every year in our north-east region (Caprivi Region).

We have good lessons to learn about the subject of floods, therefore regulations and management measures are necessary, but the more important thing is to develop disaster education so as to enhance the standard of disaster consciousness and knowledge about disaster prevention in the whole nation.

Disaster education should be developed in multi-channels/multimedia. Many newspapers, magazines, TV programmes need to be published and performed.

Our universities, Polytechnic and colleges need to introduce disaster research programmes and courses in disaster and its countermeasures in order to bring about change.

Disaster:
Consequences

Infrastructure such as: school buildings, offices, kindergartens, shops, hotels, etc. containing normal equipment, warehouses, sheds, garages, industrial buildings, hospitals, roads, bridges and culverts are being threatened by floods in our Northern regions such as Caprivi, Oshana, Ohangwena and Omusati.

There are more than 146 bridges in Namibia with spans varying from 9 metres to over 80 metres.

The longest bridge is the 281-m long bridge over the Swakop River at Okahandja.

Bridge superstructures are generally of the open deck design, the track sleepers being supported directly on the main structural members of the deck, which are either riveted steel plate girders or rolled steel I-section girders.

With the exception of the Swakop River Bridge at Swakopmund, which has been subjected to the corrosive effects of a marine environment, the structural members of all bridge superstructures are in good condition with little sign of corrosion. However, it was rehabilitated recently.

Some of the bridges and culverts reached their lifespan, therefore there is a great need to take urgent action to carry out inspection and rehabilitate those structures as soon as possible.

In future, all the government’s infrastructure need to be properly examined from time to time during the construction period and after completion, by inspectors or experts in order to ensure the specifications and standards are being followed accordingly.

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