Solveig Olafsdottir in Harare
As the world marked World Water Day on 22 March, the countries of Southern Africa were bracing themselves for possible floods. The International Federation’s regional delegation, which is based in Harare, remains on red alert as the level of the Zambezi River continues to rise.
The Zambezi originates in the highlands of Angola and Zambia, from where it flows into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, through the borders between Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, before reaching Mozambique where it finally spills into the Indian Ocean.
Floods have already been reported in Sofala district in Mozambique, where Red Cross volunteers are on 24-hour stand-by, ready to assist if the main rivers burst their banks again.
The northeast and southeast areas of Zimbabwe have been placed under flood alert, and the Botswana Red Cross has sent out an assessment team to monitor the situation in the north of the country, by the borders with Namibia.
The greatest concern is in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, where the water level has reached over five metres and continues to rise 13-15 centimetres per day, according to authorities at the Hydrology division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development. The current level is more than 1.5 metres higher than at the same time last year, when the Zambezi burst its banks, causing serious flooding.
The Namibian Red Cross has been monitoring the situation for weeks and is ready to intervene, as it did last year when some 8,700 flood victims received assistance from the Red Cross.
Emergency response is an essential part of the water and sanitation programme in the region, be it in flood or drought situation, as thousands of people are threatened yearly by waterborne diseases such as malaria, cholera and diarrhoea.
“The Federation has developed a strong capacity in responding to emergencies,” said William Corkill, the Federation’s regional water and sanitation delegate in Harare.
Corkill underscored that although responding to emergencies was still very much part of the Federation’s business, the regional delegation was putting increased emphasis on developmental approach to water and sanitation.
“It is a vital part of the Red Cross’ role to ensure that vulnerable communities have access to safe water supplies, and are exposed to regular hygiene and sanitation promotion,” said Corkill.
“With its network of volunteers working at the grassroots level, the Federation is uniquely placed to reach these communities and ensure that water supplies are sustainable by involving and training the local population as a part of our programme,” he adds.
By using this approach, the regional delegation together with the National Red Cross Societies in Southern Africa, is contributing to the Federation’s commitment to assist developing countries to reach the UN Millennium Development Goal, which seeks to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
The lack of access to proper water and sanitation facilities has exacerbated the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa, since the risk of communicable diseases spreading as a result of the consumption of polluted water is all the greater.
The danger of such diseases spreading from one person to another in homes where at least one person lives with HIV has become more and more evident to the Red Cross, and in order to provide more holistic care for the most vulnerable communities in the region, the Red Cross Societies in Southern Africa have decided to further integrate the water and sanitation and HIV/AIDS home-based care programmes.
The focus of the home-based care programme has primarily been on the care of the client, but by adding water and sanitation and the promotion of health education, the Red Cross is ensuring that the environment of people living with HIV/AIDS and their families is also safe.