Mystery floods in Namibia, Africa

By Lahja Nashuuta Published: 20120402

Tsumeb ‑ Floodwaters, suspected to be coming from underground lakes, have destroyed huge sections of roads between Tsumeb and Oshivelo in northern Namibia and ravaged some five farms in the area.

In an interview with The Southern Times last week, the Oshikoto Police Deputy Regional Commander, William Peter, who is also a member of the region’s emergency response team, said the waters suddenly appeared around February 25.

The most severe flooding in Namibia historically occurs in Oshikoto, Oshana, Ohangwena and Omusati.

Peter said a group of emergency officers were attending to affected areas in Oshikoto.

“When we got there we found out that the road, just 40 km to Tsumeb, was completely destroyed by water and there were also three vehicles that were involved in accidents around that area due to the flood.

“No deaths were reported,” said Sergeant Noongo Thomas of the Namibian Police.

Sgt Noongo said at least five farms were under water, including one belonging to the head of the Namibia Defence Forces, Lieutenant-General Epaphras Denga Ndaitwah.

Police Regional Deputy Commander Peter added, “We were astonished to discover that some of this water was coming from underground and it wasn’t rain water as we thought.

“This water was swift flowing and there was nothing we could do to stop it.”

He said people had been relocated to higher ground.

Asked if the water could be coming from the nearby Otjikoto and Guinas lakes, he said there had been heavy rains and the picture was not yet clear.

“I am not a hydrologist, but … I think the two lakes have something to do with this flood because the flooded farms are situated between the two.

“There are underground lakes and they appear at some points but never in this magnitude.”

Peter said experts were investigating and their report would be made public.

He advised people against erecting barriers around their properties, as that would merely divert the water elsewhere.

One of the affected farmers, Apie Smith, said, “We don’t know where this water is coming from … it cannot be rain water.

“Some people are saying it’s coming from (the nearby) Arab River…

“Last week I flew to my farm to relocate my livestock to high ground but this morning I was just told that the grazing is getting finished and that some of the cattle have lost weight.”

Police Regional Deputy Commander Peter said there was need for the government to prepare roads for floods.

Guido van Langenhove, the head of Namibia’s National Hydrological Services, said they were still investigating.

He said the last time flooding occurred in the area was in 1970s.

“First we were informed about this by the Red Cross.

“When I passed by I saw lots of water and I thought maybe some underground pipes had burst.

“But there are no underground pipeline routes across that area.”

He said his office had been informed that the Omiramba Omuthiya-Owambo River that is 30km away, was also flooding, which was out of character.

Van Langenhove said the Tsumeb Sub-Basin is defined by the drainage of surface and groundwater from Otavi in the south and towards the Etosha Pan in the north.

The boundary in the south is defined by the geological contact between the basement rocks and the dolomitic arc of the Damara Sequence, which represents the recharge area of the Kalahari Aquifer underlying the Etosha Basin.

He said the groundwater in the sub-basin was used for large-scale stock farming but also for crop irrigation.

Some people have superstitious interpretations for the flooding.

However, Petrus Angula Mbenzi, a lecturer at the University of Namibia, and author of books on local cultures, said this was highly unlikely.

“Water is good, even if it causes damage to people’s properties; water is known to be used for good purposes.

“It’s known for cleansing and for fighting bad luck and not for bringing bad luck.

“For example, in our culture if people are about to fight you just pour water between them and they will stop,” he said.

Otjikoto and Guinas lakes are situated on the Northern Platform of the Damara Orogenic Belt, which consists predominantly of shelf carbonates that geologists say are some 700 million years old. Carbonic acid-rich groundwater percolating on fracture planes caused dissolution of the rock and the formation of cavities, growing into huge, usually water-filled, caverns.

The resulting system of underground caverns and tunnels may become unstable and collapse, leaving behind a circular sinkhole, which ‑ with its almost vertical sides ‑ looks like an impact crater. Thus, Otijkoto and Guinas lakes represent “windows” to the surface of the groundwater flowing from the Otavi Mountain land towards the north.

Lake Otjikoto lies 20km northwest of Tsumeb along the main road to the Etosha National Park.

The lake is one of the few places in Namibia where underground water comes to the surface.

According to tradition, humans who entered such water would disappear forever.

Earliest inhabitants believed the lakes to be bottomless and connected to each other by a system of subterranean tunnels.

More recent tales tell of the ghost of a German soldier haunting Lake Otjikoto and of an incredibly rich German war chest reposing in its depths.

Today the lake water is used for irrigation, but its abstraction is strictly regulated.

During colonial times, Lake Otjikoto was also a popular recreational site but that ended with the start of World War I.

After hostilities between South African and German troops near Otjikoto, the Germans disposed most of their military equipment into the lake rather than surrender it to the enemy.

Southern Times-Mystery floods in Namibia.

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