Namibia

After devastating floods, Namibians fight cholera and wait for a return to normalcy

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Namibia/2008/Ellis
A boy washes plates in a relocation camp for families displaced by flooding in Namibia.

By Hugh Ellis & Judy Matjila

ENGELA and OSHIKANGO, Namibia, 16 April 2008 – Since February, floodwaters have inundated thousands of square kilometres of rural north-central Namibia. According to the Namibian Government, over 71,000 people have been affected by the floods.

More than 4,600 people have moved into relocation camps, where they wait for basic supplies to reach them. Some 40 primary schools have been closed since the floods began, because they were either flooded or cut off by fast-flowing water.

Meanwhile, at least 958 cases of cholera have been reported to the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services. Cholera can kill in less than a day, especially if it infects children. However, the vast majority of patients can survive if they receive treatment in time.

Critical to stemming the cholera outbreak is the training of community health activists. UNICEF recently assisted the Namibian Government in training the first group of activists, who will now be involved in training others. The trainees included government health workers as well as volunteers from the Red Cross and the non-governmental organization, Development Aid from People to People.

Death toll expected to rise
Linea Ndipwashimwe, 23, a single mother of two, felt something was seriously wrong when her two-year-old daughter Lipitwa’s temperature kept rising. When that was followed by diarrhoea and vomiting, she knew she had to get help.

She walked in the searing heat to Engela Hospital, about two km from her homestead in Ohangwena Region, northern Namibia. There, Lipitwa was diagnosed with cholera. The main hospital was so swamped with cases that it had to set up a separate cholera treatment centre. Lipitwa was among the nine children admitted at the treatment centre.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Namibia/2008/Ellis
Red Cross volunteer Erasmus Stephanus (right) and UNICEF’s Judy Matjila (second from right) help flood victim Linea Ndipwashimwe and her two children, Tuyekelao and Lipitwa, who is recovering from cholera.

Lipitwa got better, but four people have died thus far in the outbreak and it is likely the number of deaths will rise.

In addition to providing training for community health activists, UNICEF is also supporting the government and other partners in producing radio spots on cholera prevention, and in distributing water purification tablets, necessary in a region where flooding has exacerbated the already poor sanitation.

Schools for displaced children
“I came on my own here. Our house was underwater,” said Maria Nehemiah, 37, a mother of three living in a tented relocation camp near Oshikango, a town on the border with Angola.

“We are used to seeing water in the Oshanas, but this time it was worse. We tried to save what we could but there was not much time,” she added.

The school in Ms. Nehemiah’s village was surrounded by floodwaters and so had to close. “This makes me very unhappy,” she said. “We have lost everything and now our children are missing school. What will happen to their future?”

UNICEF Namibia Child Protection Officer Celia Kaunatjike said there is now a need to provide young children in the camps with safe spaces where they can learn and play. UNICEF is in the process of procuring tents and recreational kits for kindergartens that will be run by volunteers from among the camps’ residents.

In partnership with other UN agencies and the Namibian Government, UNICEF is working to support residents of the flood-affected regions as they rebuild their lives and livelihoods. For now, many Namibians are simply waiting for the water to recede.


 

 

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