Central to northern Namibia’s agro-ecology is the existence of the Cuvelei-Etosha Basin, a large water catchment area in the Highlands of Angola, whose perennial rivers filter down across the border into Namibia spreading into 7000 square kilometres of a delta-like network of seasonal watercourses, and shallow pools, known as iishana in Oshiwambo (though the anglicized term “oshanas” is commonly used). The oshana system is critical to the subsistence crop and livestock farming that sustains the rural populations. This flooding or efundja, as it is known, depends on the rainfall in Angola, but occurs most years, and even in seasons when the water inflow is low, local precipitation can fill the iishana. In years of exceptional rainfall, the water can even reach as far south as Etosha Pan. Crops are planted in anticipation of the floodwater’s arrival, or the first rains, either of which can trigger the emergence of aestivating bullfrogs, crustaceans and other invertebrates. In good years, fish too are washed into the pools, adding welcome protein to the local diet. The grasses and reeds that sprout round the edges are used for basketry, including the basket-fishing nets you’ll see women using, as they wade through the shallow pools, alert to trapping the day’s meal. Once the water arrives, the landscape is transformed: dotted with bushy marula trees and haughty makalani palms, the pale, dusty, overgrazed flatlands are replaced by mirror-like lakes, where white lilies burst open and a wealth of wetland birds are drawn to feast on this temporary food source. Though the wet season usually runs from November to April, the wettest months are December to February. Many of the more rural communities dig ometale (earth dams), which are effectively excavated iishana, so that they can retain the water for longer. In good years, despite the high evaporation rates, these communally managed water resources can last much of the dry season, providing a vital lifeline to communities in this challenging environment.

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