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Namibia Faces Worst Flooding in 50 Years - 2004-04-02

Aid workers in Namibia are preparing to evacuate roughly 10,000 people because of flooding in the northern Caprivi province. Officials are calling it probably the worst flooding in nearly 50 years.

Heavy rains in Namibia, Angola and Zambia have swollen the Zambezi River to the bursting point. The Caprivi Strip region of Namibia floods every year, but last year was worse than usual, and the residents of the area are still recovering.

Namibia Red Cross Secretary General Razia Kauaria says this year's floods are even more severe, probably the region's worst since 1958.

"But this year it's an exceptional flood, it's beyond seven meters, the river," she said. "It's burst its banks, and it's going to areas that it's never been to before. So today for example, this morning I was advised by my team in the Caprivi that they're looking at evacuating 10,000 people from five villages. But a whole lot more people will be affected by the lack of access to water, and all the malaria and other things that come with the flood. We estimate 50,000 in total that will be affected."

The Red Cross is appealing to the international community for $630,000 in aid to help those affected by the flooding. Ms. Kauaria says for many people, the situation is desperate.

"I think this is a particularly vulnerable part of the world," said Razia Kauaria. "It's very rural, it borders five countries. It has a very high HIV infection rate, 43 percent. And I think everybody led by the government are doing their best efforts to alleviate the suffering that's there. But the impact is big, because it's a poor population and traditionally they've relied on the river for existence."

Ms. Kauaria says emergency officials also need boats and helicopters to use in rescue efforts. Once the river rises this high, traditional canoes become the only vehicles people have to get out of the flood zone. And, she says, last year's floods showed those canoes to be a very dangerous mode of transportation when a number of people using them were attacked by crocodiles and hippos.

The Red Cross assessment team says the other side of the river, in Zambia, is also experiencing similar flooding.