CLIMATE CHANGE FORCES VILLAGERS TO BE ENVIRONMENTAL SQUATTERS IN NAMIBIA

By By Clemence Tashaya
February 2011
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CLIMATE change is here.

Namibia, as one of the country with the richest fishing grounds could be drastically depleted because of changes in the up-welling system and temperature increases.

Its impact is expected to be far reaching in the next generation.

Consider too, that the Namibian population has been predicted to reach three million by 2050.

Just how climate change will affect the country is difficult to accurately determine. But experts forecast with a high degree of certainty that Namibia and the rest of the Sadc region can expect an average increase in temperature of between two to six degrees Celsius in the interior.

“The climate will become drier, rainfall variability is likely to increase and extreme events such as droughts and floods are likely to become more frequent and intense. Soil moisture levels are projected to decline and as a result expect crop failure and severe water shortages impacting upon subsistence farming communities the most. Large parts of the Sadc region will become unsuitable for cattle farming and sea levels will rise,” explains Dr Peter Tarr, Director of the Southern African Institute of Environmental Assessment (SAIEA).

Dr Tarr, together with the Namibian Nature Foundation, successfully completed a comprehensive study which also assessed the economic implications of climate change in Namibia.

Simply put, Namibia does not know what will happen with the coastal fog system, which is known to be vital for most of endemic and many other plant and animal species in Namibia.

The bankruptcy belt – a virtually uninhabitable corridor encompassing the Namib Desert and the south of the country – will move further northeast, increasing the area where farming is a bad idea.

This is not good news for the 70% of Namibians dependent on agriculture. As temperatures climb even the tough, long horned Sanga cattle kept by the Himba ethnic group will start to have some difficult in conceiving, producing less milk, be more prone to diseases and drink much more water than before.

This is a problem in a country where 83% of rain evaporates as soon as it hits the ground and fresh water reservoirs are in alarming short supply.

The Namibia coordinator of the Africa Chapter in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, Oliver Ruppel explained that already in many areas, Namibia has exceeded its carrying capacity with regards to water levels this year.

In some villages in the northern regions, people are beginning to adapt to climate change by harvesting rainwater and experimenting with drought resistant crops.

But will it be enough? The past couple of years have seen an increase in diseases borne by mosquitoes widely occurring natural fires that destroy rangeland and alternating heavy droughts and floods necessitating maize imports. And of course there is the ever dreadful disease of HIV/Aids epidemic which makes any effective response to climate change so much harder.

Professor Ruppel points out that lack of awareness makes it difficult for people to understand the impact of global warming and effectively lobby Government.

“I don’t think we even have the words for greenhouse gas effect in any languages in Africa,” said a lecturer at Unam’s Biodiversity Faculty, Dr John Mfune at a media training workshop at Waterberg Plateau Park, Otjozondjupa Region, Namibia.

Experts like Dr Mfune say there are lessons to be learnt from developed countries. Namibia should forge alliances with other vulnerable countries that share the same challenges and opportunities, instead of mindlessly toeing the political line of African agenda.

A recent visit to floods plain areas in the Caprivi Region, Namibia estimates that about two hundred people have been displaced by climate change. This move has increased the perception that climate change is now being associated with the new era of mass migration. Large numbers of people are moving as a result of environmental degradation that has increased over the years not only in Namibia but also in other African countries and indeed in the whole world.

Recent catastrophes in the Caprivi Region have forced many villagers to be environmental squatters as a result of floods. Villagers in the Eastern Caprivi constituencies have become migrant squatters as a result of floods which has brought misery in their families.

Hundreds of flood victims in the flood plains have called on Government to build them some permanent houses at their relocation camps in the Lusese area, 60 km from the Caprivi region’s capital, Katima Mulilo.

But can this migration contribute to climate change adaptation? It has now become synonymous or common to describe those being forced to migrate because of environmental reasons as climate change refugees and to characterise such movements as forced migration.

They have been described by international environmental experts as “Environmental Refugees” meaning the whole category of people who migrate because of environmental factors. This is common in certain parts of Africa and other Asian countries where climate change catastrophes occur more often.

This term “Environmental Refugees” applies to the Caprivi Region flood victims who face this dilemma during any rainy season because of floods.

A camp was established in 2005 at Lusese by the Government and is occupied by people from nearby villages such as Ivilivinzi, Ihaha, Nakabolelwa and Masikili villages.

Since 2003, the Government through the Office of the Prime Minister and the Caprivi Regional Council has been assisting flood hit “Environmental Refugees” with tents for shelter and food parcels that comprises three bags of 12,5kg mealie-meal, cooking oil and canned fish per household.

According to statistics available from the Caprivi Regional council, it is estimated that about 200 hundred families are affected and displaced every year as a result of floods mainly caused by climate change affecting the Zambezi River basin.

The Directorate for Disaster Risk Management (DDRM) in Namibian in the Office of the Prime Minister, Japhet Iitenge explains that food crisis was looming in Caprivi and Kavango regions as a result of drought.

“This situation is critical because farmers in Caprivi and Kavango regions had poor harvests due to floods and heavy rains last season. The office confirms that flooding in Namibia has become a common phenomenon with the Caprivi, Kavango, Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshikoto and the Hardap regions experiencing severe floods over the past five years.”

In the Caprivi region, flood victims say they are always at Ngoma for some few days for censors’ purposes and are later moved to Lusese. The Village Development Committee (VDC) which is always on toes with the relocation assignments allocates them temporary residence while waiting for new tents and then be moved to Kabbe and Lusese which have become more like a permanent flood relocation area.

Best Mayanga, a resident at Ihaha village says accommodation has become a major problem for them because the population and demand are also increasing.

“Every year, the Government has to increase the number of tents because people are multiplying in these villages. Food is not a problem because we receive handouts from Government.”

At the camp, pupils whose education programmes have been disturbed could be seen attending classes in temporary tents. They came with their teachers who have also been affected.

“We came here with our school going children. We wonder why some of the schools did not want to move this side because all the schools are flooded. There is a problem of sanitation because all toilets are waterlogged,” she continues.

In this regard, it is obvious that this forced climate change migration will result in health disasters for most of the Namibian villagers especially those in vulnerable areas. The direct and indirect impact of health will be influenced by environment conditions. But many environmental experts focus on infectious diseases such as malaria forgetting other fundamental requirements for health such as safe drinking water, clean air, sufficient food and secure shelter which has many adverse health impacts.

Climate change researchers have identified what they term “path ways” and health risks associated with climate change. They associate climate change with skin cancer, eye problems and immunosuppression.

Direct impact of climate change also results in thermal stress which leads to death and injury. Sea and river level rises lead to physical displacement as happening not only in the Caprivi Region and some parts of Namibia.

In this case, environmental effects such as change of water supply will definitely result in risk factors such as water insecurit and poor water quality. As a result, water borne, food borne and rodent borne diseases, air pollution, women’s health, child health and occupational health occur.

The villagers in the Caprivi and Kavango regions have been losing valuable land and family property in all seasons. They have been affected by loss of productive farm land leading to crop failure. For instance, the Caprivi region largely depends on fish as the basic food and its availability has been changing. Malnutrition has affected children mostly.

The Government has provided environmental refugees tents and mosquito nets for the prevention of malaria, a common infectious disease when there is forced environmental migration.

However, there seems to be a conflict between these villagers and Government. Villagers don not want to be moved to permanent higher grounds because their villages provide them with good pastures for their livestock. They are also fishmongers and depend on fish as source of income hence their need to live near the Zambezi River basin and the Kavango River.

“Relocating us to a permanent area looks good for everyone but remember we are fishmongers. We have children who need to go to school. That’s the only reason why we can’t move from our flooded areas,” argues Mayanga.

A range of statistics and studies show that the poor are likely to become poorer, with reduced employment opportunities, especially skilled labour. As a result, this will affect Namibia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Simasiku Simasiku, an Extension Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in the Caprivi Region predicts that temperatures in Namibia will increase three times the global mean temperatures increases reported for the 20th Century.

“Climate Change is likely to exacerbate the dry conditions already experienced in Namibia especially the Eastern Regions and others in southern Africa. When rainfall comes, it is likely to be in greater intensity leading to erosion and flood damage as happened in the North of Kavango, Caprivi, Ondangwa and other parts in Zambia and Angola.

“Obviously, climate change migration will increase in the affected regions especially in the Caprivi region. But these predictions gain little policy traction in Southern African countries,” he says. PF