Farmers on the brink

Farmers in the Oshana Region say this is the worst drought since 1991.

20 October 2016 | Disasters

ILENI NANDJATO

Disaster is looming for farmers in the Uuvudhiya grazing area of the Oshana Region after Lake Oponona dried up and news that NamWater will not recharge it.

This time last year, people were still fishing in the lake, while it also supplied drinking water to livestock.

The drying up of the lake has sparked fear among farmers that they risk losing hundreds of animals.

NamWater pumped water from the Olushandja Dam in mid-July and used a 130km-long canal to channel the water to Uuvudhiya, but it is unlikely to reach Oponona.

According to NamWater officials, the water will only reach Uuvudhiya, where the canal ends, and the water utility is not going to build a new canal to Oponona.

“For us to create a canal to Oponona we’ll need an environmental clearance certificate from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Without it, water will only end up in an earthen dam at Uuvudhiya,” a source said.

Desperate farmers are now exploring other options in order to save their animals.

The area, which has good grazing pastures and is home to thousands of cattle belonging to farmers from Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Omusati and Oshana, is about 30km from the Uuvudhiya earthen dam.

The acting chairman of the Oshana Regional Farmers’ Union, Thomas Nambabi, told Namibian Sun that there is a crisis in the grazing area.

“I just came from there last weekend and there is no water. Oponona has dried up and NamWater is not saying anything regarding taking water to Oponona. I just don’t know what we are going to do,” Nambabi said.

He said he has been farming in the area since 1986 and the last time they experienced such a devastating drought was in 1991.

According to Nambabi, it is very rare for Lake Oponona to dry up. When that happens, farmers lose thousands of cattle.

“This year’s drought looks more severe than ever because it is too early to have no water in Oponona. Last year, we had water but still we lost many cattle.

“I am now wondering what will happen this year. Where there is grass there is no water, and where there is water there is no food for livestock. My advice to fellow farmers is that they must buy water tanks so that they can transport water from the earthen dam to their cattle posts,” Nambabi advised.

Earlier, the Oshana Regional Council requested the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to appeal to NamWater to pump water to Uuvudhiya in order to replenish Lake Oponona, where the dwindling water had become too salty for animals to drink.

The farming area relies on water from the Cuvelai Drainage System – a network of oshanas that run from southern Angola to the Etosha salt pan.

Because of poor rainfall in the catchment area in the past three years, the seasonal floods did not replenish Lake Oponona.

Farmers are already frustrated by the Oshakati-Omapale pipeline that supplies water for human and animal consumption. Because of the high water demand in the area, the demand is outstripping the supply in Uuvudhiya.

Efforts to get comment from NamWater were unsuccessful. There was no response to emails sent to its spokesperson, Johannes Shigwedha, and his cellphone went unanswered too.

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