Hundreds stranded after Kazungula floods

An official at the Kazungula district offices camp told sympathisers who visited to assess the situation that the district had set up three centres for the displaced people. The largest group of people was in Kazungula with more than 700 displaced. The official said the camp had more than 120 households, among them 228 men, 277 women and at least 209 children. The oldest person in the camp was an 82-year-old man while the youngest was a one-month-old baby. Of the 209 children, more than 150 were of school-going age and this was one of the major worries for district officials. “The children have not been going to school and this is of concern to us. We are trying to work out ways of setting up a temporary school for them here,” the official said. Two other sites where people had been seeking shelter were Kasensa and Bombwe. At Kasensa, there were about 410 people on March 23 while at Bombwe, there were 219 people. “Both these places are inaccessible. They are right in the bushes and we need choppers to service them. We need to help these people,” he said. He said this was a crisis which required co-operation from everyone. Urgent requirements at the camps included drugs, food, and shelter in the form of tents and clothes as well as bedding. Cooking utensils were also required. There were some islands in other parts of the district which were difficult to reach and people were believed to be stranded there. The army was trying to reach them. One of the major concern at such camps is health. To prevent any disease outbreaks, the district had set up a clinic at the Kazungula district offices camp and one doctor was stationed there. The other two camps had one clinic at Kasensa. A three-member team from the Zambezi Action Plan Project 6, Phase II (ZACPRO 6.2) Project, an initiative of the Southern African Development Community, based in Lusaka, visited Kazungula district soon after news of the floods there broke. The following is a narration of their experience. This story has been written with the wish to give the reader an idea and feel of the floods with the hope of starting discussion and debate on integrated flood management in the Zambezi River basin. By Abwino Munjoma After giving us a dug-out canoe ride around what remains of his village, Peter Nyambe hitches a lift from us to the Kazungula district offices where a camp has been set up, to see how his wife and their four children are doing after escaping from the floods that hit the area. He takes with him a mattress and two bags, the only possessions that remained after the floods that hit his village and tens of others in Kazungula district, about 100 kilometres north-west of Zambia’s tourist capital Livingstone. As a fisherman, he depends on water for his livelihood, but this time around the water has become his enemy and let him down. It has chased him and his family and hundreds of others from their homes to seek temporary shelter in a camp. What remains of their village are shells of huts. All the mud used to plaster the homes and the grass for thatching have been washed and blown away leaving only the wooden structures standing in what, to visitors, seems like a huge dam. As he takes us around the village in his dug-out canoe, he shows us what remains of his compound. “This is my house. We woke up and found ourselves in water and all we could do is save our lives. We did not manage to salvage most of our property, including animals. I lost four cattle too,” he says as he paddles the canoe. As I sit on a stool placed in the canoe and taking pictures, I am feeling very calm and I feel at peace, oblivious to the dangers of being in a dug-out canoe in flooding waters that go up to almost a metre deep. The other visitors in a canoe ahead do not seem very comfortable as they hold on tightly to the canoe. I cannot blame them. The waters feel like you are on a lake. I could not see the end. It was water everywhere. This is the trail of destruction the floods that swept across Kazungula district in south-west Zambia left when Ngwezi River, a tributary of the Zambezi, burst its banks following continuous rains. “People here are living like fish and they are making bridges in their homes,” says Pastor Chris Kwandu from Kwandu village as he takes us around his village to have a look at the destruction. Kwandu is the first village we are visiting before getting to Nyambe’s village of Kasaya, and as people coming from town, some are clad in closed shoes and others in sandals. By the end of the visit to the flood site, we all have bare feet with shoes in our hands. Pastor Kwandu takes us to his sister’s home, at least the water is just covering our feet and we think this is not bad. There we find her with a group of children sitting on the only dry patch of land in their compound. She is about to prepare some food. “Come and see what the water has done to the houses,” Kwandu beckons us and we follow him to a big empty one-roomed house whose floors are soaked and look like those of a cattle kraal. We proceed to his house where the water has left a similar mark on the floors. His wife and baby are sitting outside with some of their belongings waiting to move to the road from where they will be taken in a truck to Kazungula district council offices. “We have been warned that the water levels may rise and so all those that are still in the affected villages have been asked to leave and seek shelter elsewhere,” Kwandu says adding that since they have nowhere else to go, they will join others at the camp. “I will only go to the camp after everyone has gone. Right now, I want to go up to Kasaya and organise people from there,” he says as he leads the way to his father’s homestead, a few metres away from his. His father’s homestead bears testimony to the havoc and destruction that water can cause. Two of his huts ‘ a food storage and a kitchen ‘ have been reduced to a heap of rubble and grass. The father, Martin Kwandu, is the village headman and he seems undecided as to whether he should leave his home to join others at Kazungula. But he quickly responds to the question saying: “Oh no, I will go. We are worried about the animals, but we may leave them behind,” as he looks past the visitors staring into empty space. One can only guess he is thinking about his property, including the crops they had almost harvested. “We have lost a lot. We expected a bumper harvest this year. But with the floods, most crops have been swept away and others will just rot since they are in water now. This means we will be on the food aid list,” says Pastor Kwandu. As he is asked what he makes of the floods, the pastor is quiet for a few seconds as he wades through the water with us following him to the roadside where we have left the vehicle, and then says: “What does this mean? Nothing except its God’s plan.” Thinking we had captured the best pictures, we tell him we are going back to chat with people at Kazungula. He encourages us to go with him to Kasaya village. As we arrive at the village, about 50km along the Kazungula-Sesheke road, we realise we haven’t seen the worst yet. We see many huts in water looking like they were built high on poles on a lake only to realise the water had washed away the bottom part of the structure and that this is not a lake. Pastor Kwandu introduces us and requests that we be taken around the village on bigger canoes. There is hesitation on my colleagues’ part but I am very eager to give it a go. I want to take as many pictures as possible to share the experience with other people and to show them what water can. Two dug-out canoes are brought round and we find ourselves in them. One colleague and I get into the one Nyambe is paddling. Kwandu gets into the one in front with the other colleague and we set off to look at the destruction around the village. We see many houses with most of the mud plastering washed away, we spot a pickup vehicle with the words “Jealous is Poison” inscribed on it. It has its lower body immersed in water and we wonder if it will ever move again. I think to myself, the owner of this vehicle must have prospered and now, has been reduced to a pauper. We learn later that he actually lost more vehicles. After about 30 minutes, and when we think we are going back “ashore”, one of them suggests it is important we see a farm where most of the implements were destroyed. After some hesitation, we are convinced it is important we should see them. It takes us about 10 minutes to get to the farm, still on the canoe in waters that could drown anyone and we are told these are flood waters. They look calm and peaceful but I am weary of touching them considering there could be invisible dangers so I continue taking pictures using a still camera. I have surrendered the digital camcorder to my colleague in the other canoe hoping he can capture me on this dug-out canoe. I have been taking all the pictures and since I will write the story about being in a dug-out canoe, I need to substantiate that. When we get to the farm, we see tractors half immersed in water. It is hard to imagine how the owner felt. Someone then points us to a donkey that is stuck in the mud and has half its body in water, still alive. We know we cannot do anything to save it and we hope someone will. We pass on as it stares at us as if asking for assistance. We have seen enough and it is getting depressing so we ask Nyambe to take us back to the village. He paddles us back. There is not much talking as we head back. Each one must be thinking how tough it is for the people that have lost all they have worked for in the village. We are safely “docked” and just keep looking back at the waters when Pastor Kwandu calls me to go and take pictures of a family arriving from another village on a canoe. It is the family that lost four vehicles including the truck that we saw. Mr Mukushongela Mkongola, in fresh neatly ironed clothes, emerges from the boat. “I will try to go and see the Minister in Livingstone,” he says in response to a question on his plans. He hopes he will get some compensation. At our car behind us, Nyambe loads our vehicle with his mattress and two bags. He seems very anxious to go to Kazungula and check on his wife and children. We say our goodbyes to those that remain behind waiting for the bigger truck in the afternoon as we head back to Kazungula. At the camp, we are given a briefing about the situation before being given a tour. As we are shown around the tents that have been put up, we have an opportunity to meet with the oldest man in the camp who is 82 years old and we also see a one-month-old baby, the youngest in the camp. We find women preparing lunch, some coming from fetching firewood and we are reminded of the negative effects of unplanned settlements. We meet with a man who was bitten by a snake as he walked barefoot in the flood waters and we just look at each other as we are told: “We have never seen some of the snakes that we are seeing in these waters.” I feel so relieved knowing we have left the waters and that this piece of information was not shared before we got onto the canoe. Just before we leave the camp, we spot Nyambe reunited with his family and having lunch. He seems relieved and we cannot help but smile back at him, happy that at least one of his concerns ‘ his family’s safety ‘ has been taken care of.

April 2006
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