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Governance of Climate Risk in Namibia Part 1(of 2): Managing floods and droughts

12 May 2016 - 13:00

by Gina Ziervogel and Tali Hoffman

Facilitating a two-day Vulnerability and Risk Assessment workshop in Outapi, in Namibia’s Omusati region, was an excellent way to become familiar with the hazards and issues affecting the north-central part of the country. Building on this, we set out to interview stakeholders about the governance of climate and development challenges of the area. We focused our interviews on the Omusati region, and spoke to stakeholders working in the water and disaster risk management arenas. Both droughts and floods emerged as major concerns.

Managing flood risks

Prompted by the 2008 floods that caused significant loss of life and damage to the area, a Disaster Management Committee (DRMC) was formed in Omusati. This committee – which meets quarterly, or as required – brings together regional heads of line ministries, regional council members and the regional Red Cross office as the secretariat. The Red Cross, with support from International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the Prime Minister, also focuses on training people in the region for multi-hazard and disaster responses.

One respondent said, “Omusati [DRMC] works well with the regional council because we are all part of the response team, so we work together on the ground and make decisions together.” She followed up by explaining the different roles they had all played in a recent flood where two school children lost their lives and a number of households and a school needed to be relocated. The Red Cross set up washing facilities and got volunteers to educate people on health issues. Teams from the Ministry of Defence came in quickly to help set up emergency camps. However, the DRMC still faces challenges as, by the time we arrived in March, a few weeks after the floods, the relocated households had not all been able to return home yet. While this is possibly due to a lack of manpower, there was also a sense in the DRMC that some of the local people were waiting for everything to be set up for them and didn’t want to help out.

There is plenty more work still to be done. The Red Cross thought that, although the DRMC links in to the local level, more could be done to ensure village members get the training and support they need. For example, in a recent workshop 100 tribal authorities were trained but only 10 of those passed information on to their villages. And although material was provided to trainees in the local language, there was a pervasive sense that, “Next time we must target communities directly.”

The importance of regional plans

One of the approaches mentioned as an important part of preparing for disaster risk was the contingency plans that exist at the regional level. These plans require different ministries and directorates to think ahead of time about responses and to come together quickly when a disaster occurs.

An exciting innovation in this regard was a programme run by the Red Cross in 2013/2014, funded by the Spanish Red Cross. They worked with two constituencies and helped Village Development Committees develop contingency plans for the coming six months. As part of the week-long training, they helped village members select interventions that would address their key issues. One of the villages chose to build an earth dam to supply water and reduce the risk of flood events. An additional benefit was that, given their involvement in the intervention selection, the community felt invested in the project and strengthened their sense of community and belonging through the building process.

Managing drought risks

Drought is a pervasive issue in the area and is a concern both from the livelihoods perspective, in terms of the way in impacts on livelihood activities, and from a service provision perspective. The regional actors who supply water talked to us about the impact drought has had on the quality of both borehole and piped water, and the implications of this for households, livestock and wildlife.

Water in the region comes from Angola and is transferred first through an open canal and then through a piped reticulation system. When there is a drought there is greater demand for water and people damage the canal to get water for their livestock. This reduces both the overall amount of water and reduces the water pressure – with bad consequences for the villages at the end of the pipeline. During droughts people move even further afield with their livestock for grazing and so require water in these far off areas. These additional pressures not only compromise the water supply system, but lead to increased maintenance and operational costs.

Meeting demands on supply

To help meet the water supply demands, the Omusati Directorate of Rural Water and Sanitation requests resources from the national level to drill more boreholes, particularly in remote areas. Nam Water is also planning to improve the quality and extent of pipes in the area over the coming five years.

The Department of Planning, in the Regional Council, plays multiple roles in this regard. It helps with sanitation – particularly important during disease outbreaks – and tankers in water to villages when supply is low. It is also responsible for housing and the construction of clinics, hospitals and schools (although the funding for these projects comes from the line ministries at the national level). Illustrating how drought can impact on access to these services, the director explained that the construction of a school in the region had been put on hold for two months, as there was not enough water for the building process.

Managing livelihood impacts

In order to proactively reduce the impact of hazards and issues on people’s livelihoods, several schemes have been put in place. Rural employment schemes, including irrigation projects and construction, have focused on helping the youth to find employment. In addition, the Department of Planning supports microfinance – cash for work and rural employment schemes. Small groups of people come together and apply to the microfinance control officers in the constituency when they see the local adverts. Microfinance has had some successes here, with a range of projects – including construction and agriculture – still in place. Unfortunately there is limited training for those who don’t have initial work ideas, so it is likely to be the more innovate people who benefit from this programme.


In the next blog in this two-part series, we detail the complexity of working across scales to manage disaster risk.