Friday, April 12, 2024

Gweta faces humanitarian crisis

Three weeks after the monstrous floods that ravaged Gweta Village and appendage settlements, it is increasingly becoming apparent that unless the Government legislates in favour of a proactive approach towards national disaster preparedness and management , the present scenario in Gweta, which has been widely reported by the press, may not be the last nor the one with the worst casualties.

This follows an incident on February 12 in which a Botswana Defense Force helicopter was dispatched from Kasane army camp to the disaster area to assist in relief efforts there, only to return without having done anything to salvage the residents not even to facilitate assessment of the situation of affected people who, to this day, remain trapped in areas which are not accessible by road transport. This has made it even difficult for Social Services assessment to be carried out in order to determine the extent of damage to property and more importantly the effect of the floods on the resident’s shelter and food supplies.

Two days later, a Botswana Red Cross four wheel drive vehicle almost got stuck trying to drive to one settlement known as Tjinigo, which was thought to be one of those that are, possibly passable, the Red Cross officials then decided to traverse the muddy waters on foot, leaving the vehicle behind. The Red Cross vehicle had transported the S&CD Technician to enable her to have a view of the situation from close range. Information reaching Sunday Standard revealed that the officers found one middle-aged pregnant woman who was weak from possible malaria infection or contaminated water, as she admitted to drinking flooding water because they had since finished the entire stored one.

The reason advanced by the BDF for not being helpful that day, according to information turned up by Sunday Standard investigations, is that they had limited fuel that was sufficient only for their return to base, mainly because they did not have clear instructions as to what exactly they were expected to do at the disaster scene. It has been established on authority that given the fact that their fuel was meant for only three hours, including the return trip, the least they did was to fly to the shortest possible destination (settlement), which, in this case, was Polanka with the village chief, Lesupang Mapine, Gweta West councilor Moses Bodulala, and the Social and Community Development Technician on board the Chopper.

Nonetheless, Sunday Standard can reveal that there is only one S&CD technician in Gweta responsible for assessing victims of the disaster in the village as well as in the surrounding settlements which were equally affected. To highlight the severity of the situation, information passed to Sunday Standard by impeccable sources, reveal that at the advent of the aggressive floods that ravaged a good part of the area, about the end of January, the S&CD technician who previously worked there, left on maternity leave.

The new Technician who resumed her duties in the area around the same time, naturally found herself grappling with the challenge of having to provide social and emotional support to people she has never met before. As if it was a curse upon the 7000 heads population, the District Officer, Geoffrey Gare, who was apparently the overseer of the Disaster Management activities in the Tutume Sub-District area, which also embraces Gweta and encashment settlements, was also transferred to Maun, incidentally around the same time.
Additionally, information turned up by Sunday Standard investigations reveal that on the same day that the Army Chopper came to the area, a team of at least 12 civil servants arrived from the Tutume Sub-District to assist in the assessment of the victims’ situation. The officers, according to Acting Director of the Disaster Management Office in the Office of the President, Nkosiyabo Moyo, were pulled from different Government Departments in the Sub District of which Gweta and other areas are a part. Moyo further said that the officers are part of the District Disaster Management Committee, which is coordinated by the District Officer, Louis Mlilo.

The Acting Director’s statement notwithstanding, Sunday Standard has been able to establish on authority that there is no standing structure in the District, let alone Gweta Village, where disaster stuck. One of the officials who declined to be mentioned by name, said, “I find it difficult even to dispute accusations that we came as an advance party for the President, we are just here doing nothing, because we don’t have protective clothing, not even gum boots, worst of all we cant even go to places where our help is needed most because the places are not accessible.”

President Festus Mogae was addressing a kgotla meeting in Gweta on 15 February to bid residents farewell, as he is due to leave office in a few weeks. He was given two horses and some furniture and house utensils as presents.

Nonetheless, Nkosiyabo posited that it was within the ambit of the DDMC or officers at the scene to determine what they needed to be able to deal with the situation on the ground.

“Certainly there would be no way for us to know what is needed without being informed,” he said. Furthermore he said the District Officer and the Assistant Council Secretary, would be best placed to respond to most of the questions concerning the state of things in the area since they (the NDMO at OP) are only responsible for coordinating through them.

The Sunday Standard can confirm that all the 12 officers returned to their duty station on the day that the President left. According to evidence turned up by this paper, the officers had been ordered by their respective superiors to report back after the three days they were given to offer support to the S&CD officer in assessing the vulnerability of the victims of the disaster.

Nevertheless, there was no basis for them to stay there when there were no appropriate logistical requisites to perform. The NDMO official confirmed that an arrangement had been made to avail the gumboots as soon as possible.
However, efforts to talk to Mlilo about the situation were not successful, as he maintained that the best people to talk to are Moyo and his colleagues. On what powers Mlilo has in terms of providing financial and logistical support in times of need, Moyo said, his office (DMO at the OP) provides financial support to Mlilo’s committee through the Disaster Relief Fund Order. …Moreover when a disaster has occurred, the DO has the authority to pool the resources in the District.” According to Moyo the NDMO may then mobilize extra resources.

The President’s man further said, concerning the Chopper’s limited fuel, that as far as he is aware the Army helicopter did conduct an aerial survey of the affected settlements and were satisfied that the residents were free from danger. “Unless I was not being told the truth”, he said.

Mapine, the village Chief, who was one of the four people that boarded the Chopper held a different view. He said, “It is very bad that at the moment we have no idea what is happening to those people who are still trapped since we couldn’t reach them, because the BDF said they did not have enough fuel and again if we left the S&CD technician (Social Worker) she will have difficulty getting back.”

Moyo said they have no long term plan for the area, at least not until the cause of flooding would have been established.

Presently the boreholes that supplied the village with water have been polluted by the sewage ponds because they were overflowing. Water is currently supplied to the village by bowsers until the normal water sources are safe. Although Moyo said in an interview that the sewage ponds had been closed to avoid spillage, Sunday Standard investigations have confirmed that the pump house which was supposed to pump water to far off distances of 13 kilometers had stopped working well before the floods began.

The Chief Medical Officer of Gweta Primary Hospital, Dr Jackson Kuagamba, told the BRCS officials that they immediately reported to the Sewage and Water Engineer at the Tutume Sub-District but to no avail.
Although the rains have stopped, Gweta West councilor, Moses Bodulala, said, “It is still early to conclude the statistics.”


Read this week's paper