MAUN: The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Blue Okavango exercise, which saw 11 airforces undertake training of air dropping goods in the Ngamiland District, ends tomorrow.
The Blue Okavango is a humanitarian training exercise for SADC meant to prepare regional air forces for disaster interventions. Botswana Defence Force (BDF) hosted the exercise in the Ngamiland district. South Africa hosted the Blue cluster in 2011 and Angola the Blue Zambezi in 2013. The exercises are hosted on rotational bases in the region every two years. On Monday this week, air forces from the SADC countries taking part in the exercise begun the air distribution of 150 metric tonnes of assorted food for the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Develoment (MLGRD). They delivered 60 metric tonnes of assorted food such as milk, Tsabana, Maluti, Sorghum, beans and cooking oil; which were distributed in the Shakawe area, 40 in the Gumare area and another 40 in the Maun area.
The air forces lifted 421 metric tonnes of the assorted food stuffs from Gaborone to Maun, from where the 150 tonnes were further distributed to the Maun general area. The MLGRD will further distribute the remaining 271 tonnes from Maun by road. Colonel Mothibedi Edwin, base commander of the air services at Shakawe operating base, briefed the media in Shakawe. He said 4,081 beneficiaries for clinics and 4,725 students in 12 villages in the shakawe area were to benefit from the airlift. The airlift is the biggest to be conducted by air so far. He explained that initiative to host the training exercises was taken to ready regional air forces for disasters. He explained that all the exercises are named ‘Blue’ taken from the light blue colour of the beret worn by officers of the air forces, and also to show that air forces operate in the blue skies. He said the previous exercise in Angola tackled real disaster save for the one in South Africa.
Colonel Mothibedi further explained that the timing of Blue Okavango was such that it is hosted when the Okavango Delta floods usually occur, although this did not happen this year. He said they thereforehad to create a fictionary disaster for the exercise. He said they created a scenario in which a ficticious notorious tribe called ‘Hikwa’ terrorises the whole area, displacing any tribe which does not subscribe to their religious beliefs, leading to a humanitarian crisis. The ficticious country from which the tribe originates is called Makgobokgobo and it is headquartered in Maun, which serves as operating base for distribution to all the centres. As part of this imagined disaster, Gaborone is a strategic base where humanitarian goods are sourced to Maun which is the operating base and further to distributing bases in Gumare and Shakawe.
The assistant director in the department of Local Government, Vanity Mafule, told the media briefing that they were approached by SADC through the Office of the President for the airlifting exercise. He said the exercise helped them to take goods to the cut off areas in a very short amount of time. She said this will relieve the pressure and costs of such food transportation and will ensure easy service delivery to their recipients.
Speaking to Mmegi in Shakawe, Batawana regent, Kgosi Kealetile Moremi praised the exercise, saying it came at the right time, considering the serious drought in the country. Moremi said Ngamiland, because of its dry landscape, is usually more affected by drought and the vulnerable members of the community are mostly affected.
Regional air forces contributed various aircrafts to transport the goods and for training.
For the helicopters transporting goods to the villages beyond the Okavango River, Botswana contributed two As 350 helicopters and one Bell 212. South Africa brought two Augusta and one Orixy, while Angola brought two Alloutte with Namibia and Zambia each bringing a Z-9. The helicopters ferried food supplies from the cargo planes in to the cut off villages across the Okavango river.