Eiseb Block, Omaheke’s Unsolved Puzzle

28 Nov 2018 12:50pm
By Charles Tjatindi

OKATUMBA GATE, 28 NOV (NAMPA) – Eiseb Block, a large tract of land in the Otjombinde Constituency of the Omaheke Region, is one of the remotest places in Namibia.
Tucked neatly away from major civilization, survival for the hordes of residents - largely pastoralist farmers actively engaged in animal husbandry - is a constant struggle as they have to literally fight against some of nature’s curses.
Although the area has a few streams running through it, the constant unavailability of water for both residents and livestock is a serious challenge.
These non-perennial streams offer little relief for residents of over 30 different villages that have come to call Eiseb home.
The Eiseb area extends along both sides of the Gobabis-Gam gravel road, from Okatumba Gate - some 210 kilometres northeast of Gobabis - up to the Gam Veterinary Control gate.
It also extends eastwards up to the Botswana border, before curling southwards towards Tallismanus, the Otjombinde Constituency’s main economic centre.
Compared to other geographically similar areas in the Omaheke Region, farmers here are often forced to drill up to 10 times deeper to access underground water.
The cost is astronomical. The labour is daunting, and so is the wait for a positive result in the drilling as the coin can flip either side - water or no water.
It is not uncommon to find villagers driving their livestock up to 20 kilometres to a village that has better water supply. For some farmers here, this is a daily norm.
Watching their livestock idle in the kraals, with clear signs of thirst as they have not had a drop to drink for over two days is not unusual for farmers, but is still painful to witness.
“We have a serious water problem in many villages in Eiseb. Well-off farmers can afford to drill deep for water and often get the desired results, but for the rest of us it is a matter of surviving from these farmers in terms of water,” Kavepuire Kandjii, a local farmer, told Nampa.
Kandjii said while some villages have some form of constant supply of water, others are completely dry and the water level in these villages appear to be shallow.
Eiseb’s vastness means that many wild animals, especially predators, still roam freely in this area.
The fact that there is a conservancy, Omuramba Ua Mbinda covering a large tract of Eiseb, does not make things any easier for these livestock farmers.
They are forced to wade off more than just water challenges as lurking predators have become a frequent headache too.
In fact, many farmers here have given up farming with small livestock such as goats and sheep due to this threat.
Another farmer, Muriaa Kuvare said the leopard and hyena are some of the most troubling predators they have to deal with as they target small stock and calves.
He said it is a common occurrence to come upon the carcass of a calf or goat in the forest with clear signs of a leopard attack.
“We fear the leopard. In older days, our forefathers would hunt them down so hard that they would relocate. But in today’s world of nature conservation, we let the relevant people take care of it which often causes delays,” he said.
Despite the size of Eiseb, which prior to independence was mainly a large jungle, cellular phone network coverage is less than 10 per cent of the entire area.
The network coverage is mainly limited to the main economic centre of the area, Eiseb Post 10 located further up north, close to Gam.
Worried residents said it is a struggle to get help when a car breaks down along the road between Gam and Okatumba Gate, a distance of some 170 kilometres.
Even worse, getting assistance in cases of accidents have proven to be a life-threatening challenge.
“A person can die just being transported to a health centre along this road as it is pure wilderness with no signs of life along it,” said elderly resident Paulina Tjirongo.
These challenges appear to be just the tip of the iceberg as far as Eiseb’s hardships are concerned as the most difficult of all to deal with has been the presence of a poisonous plant which results in the loss of hundreds of livestock every year.
The plant, which ironically blooms during the dry months of the year, has been a source of concern for many farmers for decades.
As one farmer explained: A cow will not intentionally eat this poisonous plant, but will consume it by accident along with grass, as the plant often grows into the grass or in close proximity thereof.
Once the animal has consumed this plant, its blood pressure rises and its heart starts pounding faster and it dies.
“When you suspect that an animal has eaten this poisonous plant, it is best not to drive it off hastily or cause it to do any sudden movement. Also avoid giving it water and simply let it cool off in the shade and let the poison slowly get out of its body,” Ebson Kurangera advised.
Many livestock are however not that lucky as they consume the plant far away and die in the process of trekking back home.
Eiseb may seem like a puzzling place to choose to reside in, but for those living here, it is home.
The good rainfall that frequently falls in the area often gives birth to lush green vegetation, providing abundant grazing for the livestock.
Also, the water that fills the streams during the rainy season brings relief to farmers as livestock drink from water pans and these streams for close to four months of the year.
“Every meat has its trouble; some may have bones while some have hard veins,” Kurangera said, paraphrasing from an old Otjiherero saying simply implying, ‘there is good and bad in every situation’.