accessibility & help

Floodwaters in Namibia keep thousands in camps

5 June 2009

People stand on the edge of flood zoneBRCA Red Cross mass sanitation emergency response unit (ERU) is helping prevent the outbreak of disease, as flooding continues to affect the Caprivi and Kavango regions in north-east Namibia.The sanitation situation has now improved in the relocation camps where the ERU has been working, constructing latrines and carrying out hygiene promotion activities.

At the end of April, more than 54,000 people were forced to flee their homes, with thousands living in crowded camps facing the risk of waterborne disease. In some areas, the water continues to rise and the river Kwando now exceeds last year’s highest level.

The first ERU team, deployed on 27 April, returned last week, and a second team has taken over. Ina Bluemel, British Red Cross ERU team leader, said: “Defecation in the open remains the major issue, followed by lack of hand washing. We have been supporting the Namibia Red Cross hygiene promotion volunteers in addressing these issues through workshops and posters to get the correct hygiene messages out.”

Relocation camps

In areas where the water is receding, people are returning to their homes but as they struggle to find food many are likely to return to the camps. In Schuckmansburg, the largest camp with around 4,000 people, the number of displaced is still increasing. The flooding in this region is the most severe for about 70 years and, looking from the helicopter, which drops supplies into camps, there are miles of flooding as far as you can see.

Man standing under shade of treeCathy Stephen/BRCJustin Swaniso, 36, his wife and seven children have been living in Schuckmansburg for three months. After working to mend 24 latrines with other Red Cross volunteers, Justin took a break under the shade of a mango tree. Despite the intense heat and hard work, he laughed with friends and was keen to tell his story.“When the flooding happened, we had to leave our house and all our pots, pans and other things as we could not carry them,” said Justin. “We are not living in a good condition here as there is no space in our small tent.”

Crowded conditions

Many people are living in temporary shelters made from wood and straw and there are often ten people living in a small tent. Cathy Stephen, ERU team member, said: “There aren’t enough latrines or bathing facilities and people are collecting unsafe water from the river. The absence of adequate sanitation facilities is a great concern and hygiene promotion is critical in improving the health of the camp and to avert outbreaks of disease.”

The Namibia Red Cross has trained community members to deliver hygiene and sanitation messages through home visits, drama plays, community meetings and the formation of hygiene committees in the camps. Red Cross officers visit to check on progress and provide support.

“The Red Cross is helping us with tents, jerry cans, toilets and soap,” Justin said. “They also educate people about boiling water, how to use toilets and keep the area clean.”

But the future is uncertain for Justin and his family, he explained: “We may have to stay in this camp until August and it is not nice living here. I may move to a different place to keep away from flooding in the future.”

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