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Devastating Floods will Continue in Nairobi, say Experts - 2004-01-27

Residents of the Namibian capital, Windhoek, are cleaning up after last week's devastating flash flooding. And in the country's northeastern Caprivi region, people are bracing for more floods as the Zambezi river rises. Torrential downpours last week turned some of Windhoek's normally dusty streets into rivers, and washed away many homes. City authorities are evaluating the damage, and it is not clear exactly how many people were directly affected. One local newspaper says it will cost the city more than $450,000 just to repair the damaged roads.

Although seasonal floods are normal in some parts of the city, local news media say Windhoek has not seen rains and flash flooding like this since 1934.

Officials say the city got 26 centimeters of rain in the first three weeks of January. In the normally arid country, it usually takes three months for that much rain to fall. It simply overwhelmed Windhoek's drainage system.

City managers are warning residents that the floods may return, because the heaviest part of the rainy season is only beginning.

The Namibia Red Cross Society has appealed for donations to help impoverished families who have been left homeless. Red Cross disaster management officer Abel Hamutenya says the city's informal settlements were among the hardest hit.

"The reason why the informal settlements were badly affected is that their houses were located mostly in river beds, so you can imagine that the water flows would just take their shacks away," he explained. "So the immediate needs were things like tents, which we had to distribute, second-hand clothing, and we don't have any blankets, zinc sheets and even kitchen sets, as well as mosquito nets."

Elsewhere, the threat of new floods is more acute. Six people have been reported killed in flooding along the Okavango River in northern Namibia. Water levels are reported to be rising in both the Okavango and Zambezi rivers in the north, after heavy rains upstream in Angola, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Caprivi Strip in northeastern Namibia is still reeling from heavy flooding in June, when the United Nations had to aid 12,000 people who were displaced after the Zambezi burst its banks. Many lost their homes, crops and livestock, and are only beginning to recover.

Now, the Zambezi is rising again, and residents are trying to be better prepared this time. But the Red Cross worries that new floods will hurt food supplies in the region, which also has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the country at 43 percent.

Ironically, the flooding in Namibia is struggling to cope with an extended drought, which has lasted several years.

In November, the government appealed for more than $30 million in assistance from the international community to help roughly 643,000 people affected by the drought. That is more than a quarter of Namibia's population.

The heavy rains have also affected neighboring countries. The United Nations says a refugee camp in Botswana flooded late Monday, and several provinces in South Africa have also suffered flash-flood damage.