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Flooded town slowly returns to life

Namibian farmer Solomon Nemaire never thought the normal sight of his six piglets suckling from their mother in a clean sty would be so moving. But for three days last week his farm was underwater, along with the entire southern town of Mariental - a profoundly abnormal experience. "We lost about one thousand piglets in the flood last weekend," he said. "We just could not get to the farm and evacuate our 16,000 pigs – the water rose very quickly." Now the stables have been cleaned, the animals rest in dry straw and Namibia Pig Farm, the only such enterprise in the country, is almost back in business. Houses and firms were submerged up to their ceilings in Mariental, 280 km south of the capital, Windhoek, when all four sluice gates on the nearby Hardap dam were opened after heavy rains. The enormous volume of water released caused the local Fish River to burst its banks, displacing some 2,100 of Mariental's 14,000 residents, and washing away the only road linking Windhoek to South Africa, leaving dozens of trucks stranded until Wednesday. "We put the displaced people into the hostels of the two schools," said Katrina Hanse, governor of the Hardap Region. "The schools remained closed the whole week, also because we have no proper sanitation, the sewerage and water supply systems were severely damaged." Hanse said the preliminary cost of the damage was close to US $13 million. On Friday, the government released $1.6 million from its contingency fund for the municipality and the road authority. "This emergency assistance is aimed at restoring life in the town to normalcy," said Prime Minister Nahas Angula. According to Angula, the ministry of agriculture is to assemble a taskforce to assess the damage to farms and crops. "Depending on the result, government might declare Mariental and surroundings a national disaster area. We might have to turn to the donor community to assist us with rebuilding infrastructure," he added. Heavy rains over the past 10 days caused the rapid filling of the Hardap Dam, just 15 km north of Mariental. "We could not manage this flood," said André Mostert, chief hydrologist at the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater), "there was more inflow than we could discharge." He warned that further flooding was possible due to a thick growth of reeds that was interrupting the river's flow - a problem that some farmers in the area claimed was the responsibility of NamWater. "The reed growth was controlled for over 30 years without any flood," said Hennie Louw, a local farmer. "Then the authorities did not bother anymore to cut the reeds and a bad flood hit us in 2000 and now again." Another farmer, who asked not to be named, said the flood warnings came too late. "They phoned us on Friday morning that we should move to higher ground. Six hours later the water came. How do you move 150 milk cows from a dairy within six hours – and save farming equipment, irrigation systems and huge harvesting machines?" Mariental residents remain uneasy. "We had to open the sluice gates once again today but with a very low discharge," NamWater spokesperson John Shigwheda said on Friday. "It rained a lot the night before, and the dam is again 85 percent full."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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