Namibia steps up drought relief roll out


Windhoek-  The Namibian government has been criticised for its lukewarm response to the ongoing drought crisis that has resulted in hundreds of thousands needing food assistance.

Namibia is going through the severest drought in 30 years, which has left an estimated 780 000 people ‑ one third of the entire population- in need of assistance ‑ while 109 000 under-fives are in danger of malnutrition. President Hifikepunye Pohamba declared the ongoing famine a state of emergency back in May calling for assistance from the international community.  Prolonged dry spells resulted in total crop failure and livestock deaths across the Southern African country of over two-million people.

Figures by the Namibian Meteorological Services show that parts of Namibia are experiencing the most severe drought in three decades. According to the meteorological services, the 2012-13 rainy season is among Namibia’s driest seasons on record ‑ with the summer season (September 2012- May 2013) recorded as the second driest in 25 years.

The 166mm precipitation recorded by the meteorological services at its head office in Windhoek from October 2012 to April 2013 was the lowest level of rainfall recorded since the 1981/82 rainy season.

But Director of the Disaster Risk Management, Japhet Iitenge, has downplayed the criticism and urged thousands of the drought victims, who are yet to receive government food aid, to remain calm as assistance is on the way. Iitenge told The Southern Times that the co-ordination of the drought relief programme is rolling well, with 559 000 people already covered so far by the government food distribution programme.

He said over one million 12.5kg bags of mealie-meal have been given to the most affected households in all affected regions. But this number, Iitenge noted, does not include people who are directly receiving assistance from other stakeholders such the Red Cross Society of Namibia, the Council of Churches in Namibia and private individuals.

“With the assistance from the National Operation Centre that was established in the capital (Windhoek) to handle the drought relief programme in collaboration with other stakeholders such as Namibia Red Society, the co-ordination process is going on very well and soon everyone affected by drought will be covered,” Iitenge said.

However, Iitenge has acknowledged the criticisms about government failure to provide relief to the drought victims. He says although the process is going smoothly, the programme was experiencing “some technical challenges coupled with human errors” that are obstructing this process. These include lack of transport as well as storage facilities. But Iitenge says the government is busy addressing the challenges to make sure that food supplies reach the drought affected communities.

The Namibian Defence Force (NDF) recently joined the government relief effort in the north parts of the country by availing logistics, including heavy-duty trucks to transport the food to the needy in rural areas. Meanwhile, Iitenge has thanked the international community and individuals who responded to President Pohamba’s call for assistance during the country’s ongoing struggle against the famine.

“My Directorate appreciates those that responded and willing to respond to the drought,” he said.

Southern parts of Angola are also experiencing drought of a similar magnitude and in both countries there are increasing fears of hunger and loss of livelihood due to livestock mortality.

In a speech read on his behalf at the Eleventh Conference of Parties to the United Nations Conference on Desertification that ended on September 27, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has affirmed the world body’s commitment to support Namibian efforts to mitigate the drought. On the other hand, UNICEF is seeking international support for those affected, particularly women and children, to avert a nutritional and health crisis in both countries.

Together with other humanitarian aid agencies, UNICEF is appealing for US$7.4 million to fund its response in Namibia, and US$14.3 million for Angola to respond in the worst-affected provinces including Cunene, Namibe and Kuando Kubango as well as in the southern parts of Benguela and Huila.

October 2013
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