Tuesday, April 21, 2009

High Water

The Chobe river flooding near Kasane
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Floods in the Sands

It goes without saying that it has been far too long since I have written anything here. I have no excuse other than lack of motivation…I’ve started writing about three different posts about Zimbabwe, which has been weighing on my mind a lot recently, but never managed to do the subject justice or work up the patience to finish. So for now I will write about something completely different.

Gratuitous picture of me in my plane (photo credit: J. Ewert)

Last week, we received a call from the clinic in Seronga, a village at the top of the delta where the Okavango River begins to fan out. They had a patient that urgently needed to be transferred to the hospital in the nearby village of Gumare. The flight from Seronga to Gumare is only 15 minutes, but the only alternatives are a 4-hour boat ride or a grueling, bumpy gravel road to the nearest ferry crossing (1.5 hours) followed by a 2 hour paved road trip. On average, we move about 2 patients a month along this route.

Seronga-Gumare route in red (practicing my photoshop skills)

I headed for Seronga as quickly as I could, and was soon kicking myself for not bringing my camera. The upper regions of the delta are always the most beautiful because they always have more water than the rest, but this time it was spectacular. The water at the top of the delta was higher than I have ever seen it, and areas that have clearly not had water for a long time were completely flooded. Every rainy season, heavy rains in Angola funnel into several large river systems, one of which is the Okavango that feeds the Okavango Delta. When the water from these rains (the yearly “flood”) makes its way down to Botswana about 3-4 months later, the delta fills up once again and provides the moisture that sustains huge amounts of plants and wildlife. By all accounts, this is an amazing year for water in the delta. The rains over the delta itself coupled with heavy rains in Angola have brought water levels that haven’t been seen here since 1963, and the main part of the flood hasn’t even arrived yet! While this is causing some problems for a few villages (if you’re fast you might catch the article about it in the Ngami Times), for the most part it is a huge boon for wildlife in the area. This flood should rejuvenate groundwater levels after many dry years as well as provide water much further downstream to areas that have been dry for a long time (here is an informative article for anybody interested).

Flying to Seronga and Gumare gave me a chance to see this record flood firsthand and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Just for fun, I’ll link to a pretty picture of the delta from space and a cute article about the “Babes of Botswana.” Enjoy, and keep well.