Dead Rivers Resurrect


Standing at the edge of the flooded Nxotega rivulet and watching the tiny Kapenta fish battling for survival, one can see the extent of the natural disaster that has wrought havoc in the aquatic life of this area.

Nxotega, which has been dry for over 30 years, is a spillway of the Kunyere River – an offshoot of the Okavango River. At this tributary, which is 14 kilometers west of Maun along the Sehithwa road, there is no need for a hook and bait to catch fish. Casting a net at the edge of this waterway gives you a huge catch of several fish species in less than five minutes. The heavily surging water is driving the fish to the stream’s edges where the flowing water is slower.

It is Tuesday and the media is here – not for an escapade. We have been invited by the Ministry of Transport and Communications to witness this natural flooding crisis that last Friday tore apart and sunk the bridge, halting local and trans-boundary transport movement for two days. The road links Botswana to South Africa, Namibia and Angola.

The Director of Roads, Kabo Kote, stated that the natural disaster affected trade between Botswana and her neighboring countries. He however, did not reveal the extent of the impact saying that the emergency has left them with no time to make an assessment.

According to him, the last time that the watercourse flowed heavily was in 1976. Even then, the Kunyere River was not flooded by such a huge amount of water. As a result, he said, the then Rural Roads Division of his ministry designed all the small bridges along the Sehithwa road to be used during flood periods.

“The road’s bridge was a low-cost design that was meant to connect communities. Its builders used ordinary local soil to fill it. We are aware that its lifespan has long passed”, he said.

Kote further said that it is due to the effects of the global economic recession and the way it left the Botswana government coffers empty that the new design of the road and its bridges was not implemented. He however promised that the collapsed bridge will be back in operation within three weeks adding that his men are hard at work, reconstructing it.

One can see that the water has been blocked with a pile of sand at one end and at another, a buffer dam has been created. Kote said that the buffer dam will be permanent.

Kote also acknowledged that the cutting of the heavy flow has caused another crisis. He said that since the barrage was raised, water has been rising up on the other end of the river, causing floods. Kunyere River is still flooding heavily and the spilling water has submerged some houses near the river bank. But is this the only bridge that is at the mercy of this natural phenomenon? No, said Kote. Almost all bridges and culverts in the Ngamiland, Okavango and Chobe districts are under threat. Some of them are still submerged in water and there is no way the Roads Department can attend to them until the water has subsided.

Meanwhile, the rivers are still flooded and the rainy season is approaching. At the end of the rainy season, the inflow from the highlands of Angola will reach Botswana and fill up the Okavango River and all her streams throughout the three districts.

That according to Kote, will mean worse floods and worse disaster to be expected in the northwestern districts of Botswana.