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Floods leave trail of destruction

2022-12-16  Edgar Brandt

Floods leave trail of destruction

Edgar Brandt

Paheja Siririka

Efraim Ranjeni

A massive clean-up process has commenced after this week’s extraordinary and devastating flash floods forced numerous businesses in the city to temporarily close and caused extensive damage to personal property across the capital.

This is after the city received more than three months’ rain in the span of a couple of hours that resulted in flash floods, of which footage was widely circulated on social media.

The city received around 100mm on Wednesday when usually it receives an average of approximately 31mm per month.


City storm

Responding to the unexpected flooding caused by the first real downpours of the rainy season, City of Windhoek spokesperson Harold Akwenye said the downpour occurred in a short space of time. This resulted in unparalleled flooding in many parts of the city, from Wernhil Mall in the central business district (CBD) to Rocky Crest, and caused severe devastation from Ludwigsdorf to informal settlements in Otjomuise and elsewhere.

“It is because of the unprecedented flash flood; the rain was too severe in a short space of time. The city’s drainage is not designed to accommodate such volume of water,” he explained, noting that the city cannot accurately predict the severity of thunderstorms.

He, therefore, urged city residents to keep their business and residential properties clean, and to remove any debris from sewage systems to ensure an adequate water flow from one property to the next. Akwenye cautioned that blocked drainage systems are some of the major causes of flooding, particularly in the case of cloudbursts, as was experienced on Wednesday.

“Although there was property damage, car accidents and roofs blown off, so far no loss of lives were recorded,” he confirmed.

The spokesperson added that the inflow of rainwater will be closely assessed to establish when dam sluices should be opened, if necessary.

“We will set up a team to assess the aftermath, with priority being given to the missing street kids and houses close to riverbeds in the informal settlement areas. On the other hand, the city has established a team to conduct a post-mortem to identify all that needs to be fixed, and help communities who need assistance,” he continued. He added that many of the flood victims of the exceptional heavy rainfall are residents who ignored advice not to build in or near riverbeds.


High alert

Weather forecaster Odilo Kgobetsi yesterday confirmed that an advisory was issued about this week’s possible severe weather that resulted in heavy rains and hail. The advisory was specifically applicable over Windhoek, where westerly and northeasterly winds merged over the central high ground.

He explained that while these systems develop in the atmosphere, they carry a great deal of moisture, unstable air and strong winds, causing or triggering thunderstorm activities.

“As you go into this weekend, there will be a bit of clouds again over the central parts and the north, but more storms are then expected over the north-eastern parts of Namibia, including parts of Kavango and Tsumkwe, and further to the eastern part of the country,” he noted.

Kgobetsi said come Sunday, storms would be confined over the Zambezi and Kavango East and West. In areas where more than 50mm of rain occurs, runoffs persist, which can cause rivers or smaller streams to start flowing. He thus warned everyone to be on high alert.

“If there are some hailstorms or lightning that accompany the thunderstorms, it causes some disruptions, mainly poor visibility on the roads, so people should be on the lookout,” he cautioned. Rainfall figures showed that Windhoek recorded the highest rainfall in the country at 97mm, followed by Grootfontein at 6mm, while the surrounding area of Waterberg received about 2mm and Otavi reported 30mm.


Wernhil woes

Meanwhile, a statement issued yesterday by the owners of the Wernhil Mall, Ohlthaver and List (O&L) Group, noted that while welcome rains certainly brought much relief after the scorching heat experienced over the past few weeks, this sadly, came at a price as many buildings, houses and infrastructure, including the Wernhil shopping mall in the CBD, were damaged.

“Just behind Wernhil, there is an entire canal through which the bulk of the CBD’s storm water is channelled. It is believed that the flooding was caused when the storm water system could not handle the pressure of the waterflow. At this stage, it is not possible to give accurate verified figures in relation to the full extent of the infrastructure damage. We have managed to evacuate all shoppers and tenants on the ground floor of the mall. Thankfully, no serious injuries have been reported. The damage will only be determined after a full assessment and verification,” said O&L spokesperson Roux-ché Locke. Wernhil is wholly-owned by the O&L Group, and is managed by the property services’ company Broll Namibia, which is a subsidiary of the group.


Insurance option

“They will get the cover they opted for,” opined Dawid Blaauw, head of operations at Outsurance. Responding to questions from New Era, Blaauw said insurance is a contractual agreement, and in most cases, their comprehensive cover, as determined by the underwriter, includes damage from storms and floods. However, he noted that in some cases, clients request a tailor-made option through which they choose not to include storm and flood damage due to the lack of significant rainfall in Namibia. Nevertheless, Blaauw said for Outsurance, less than 5% of their clients are not covered for storm and flood damage. No other responses were received from short-term insurers at the time of going to press.

Meanwhile, Natalia Isak, founder and corporate governance director of the African Corporate Governance Institute, pointed out that the Wernhil Mall may have to close temporarily to attend to damaged property. This means not all shops will return to business as usual immediately, and temporary income or job losses in totality are a real possibility.

“Furthermore, flooding may send a bad signal to tourists, thereby affecting the tourism sector. A drop in sales at the mall during especially the rainy seasons should also be expected, going forward,” she stated.

“Specifically, the Wernhil flooding signals that Wernhil failed to properly assess and efficiently mitigate the environmental risks associated with its business practice as a shopping mall, and this facilitated its inability to detect its structure or location as flood-prone. This failure further meant that Wernhil could not properly articulate a resilient, continuation or timeous disaster management policy, and this is strengthened by the escalation and duration of the flood implications,” Isak added.

She said the fact Wernhil must reasonably be aware of is its location, and that includes it being at the bottom of a hill, which might make a strong case for negligence rather than a defence.

“This is because Wernhil had the responsibility to ensure an appropriate drainage design under its circumstances, a drainage shape in particular that ensures dispersing, and not the concentration of water. This is not just a once-off compliance check, but a continuous one, considering climate change; the relevant drainage design may have been appropriate under particular climate conditions, and then futile under new climate conditions. Climate change in Namibia has been reported on by major relevant institutions, revealing drought and flood manifestations of late,” Isak observed.

2022-12-16  Edgar Brandt

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