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Namibia’s NGOs struggling to survive …….blames their misfortunes on the upper middle income country status

Written by Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek- Ever since the World Bank elevated Namibia to the upper middle income country status, majority of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country have been struggling to remain afloat as donor funds dry up.

Since the reclassification of Namibia from the lower-income country to upper–middle income country in July 2009, donors have redirected their funding to country that are classified as more poorer than Namibia, leaving local NGOs in financial squeeze.

Local NGOs are heavy depending on external donor funding for service delivery.

Namibia has lively non-governmental sector with about 95 organisations registered under the umbrella Namibian Non-Governmental Organisations Forum (NANGOF), with focus of wide areas of health, social and developmental issues.

Sandie Tjaronda, the executive director of Namibia Network of AIDS Service Organizations (NANASO) has described the reclassification as misleading.

It stressed that it has created an assumptions that the country is well off and does not need external support. This led to the withdrawal of major international donors while the remaining ones also consider pulling out.

NANASO is the umbrella body for all HIV/AIDS civil society organisations (CSOs) in Namibia since 1991.

“It is unfortunate that the World Bank used their own measurements to upgrade Namibia to the level that does not corresponding to what is happening on the ground. The reality is that Namibia remains one of the highly unequal in the world.

“The gap between the rich and poor is very high and our social protection is also not something that will lead us out of poverty.

“So I think this is unfair for us as the country and the region because although our economy is doing well, our people are still under threat particularly with this disease such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria that’s mainly affecting the majority poor,” Tjaronda said.

He said the decrease in donor funding has left a huge gap in the service delivery as well as implementation of programmes on the ground.

“We work at the community level were people need our services the most, and there people that need our services to an extent that they cannot do anything without us.

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“There are people who cannot reach clinics to get their ARVs or TB medication. They need someone to bring those services to their houses.

But and once you can of such service guess what happens to those people once such assistance is no more there, it is like destroying a bridge,” he said.

NANASO is currently funded by a single donor – the Global Fund. And the grants are tailored towards the fight against HIV/AIDS, Malaria and tuberculosis (TB). This has left gaps in other activities by NANASO as the funds cannot be diverted to other activities.

Major donors such as the Africa Groups of Sweden (AGS), European Development Fund (EDF) and Spanish Federations have completely pulled out of the country, following the reclassification by the World Bank.

“We were sorted with donors’ assistance, as they use to give us enough money to run our programmes and projects as much as HIV is concern. Apart from that we also use the money to train local people, create employment opportunities for the people and it’s the same money that we use to support the local economy as we use those money to buy domestic good and services” he said.

At the moment, NANASO is not planning to pull plug on its programmes and project, but in the long run some might die a natural death if donors continue to pull out.

“We have seen already some organisation starting to close down. For example one of our members called the National Federation of People Living with Disabilities in Namibia has closed down due to financially problem which leads to job loss,” he said.

The national director of SOS Children Village Namibia Simonee Shihepo-Mulamata also confirmed the confirming the funding crisis caused by the reclassification of Namibia as middle income country.

“The reclassification of Namibia as middle income country has affected everybody in one way or another. Although our donors did not completely pull out, some of our operation budget has been reduced by 10 percent.

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But I should thank the local donors and friends of SOS Children Villages that have been keeping us running,” she said.

“Shutting down our operation is not an option because there are thousands of vulnerable children and mothers all over the country that needs our support.

As an alternative, we have come up with fundraising initiatives to source extra fund for our programmes and services,” she said.

This has already paid dividends with a recent donation of N$1 million by the Foschini Group of Companies. It is also getting assistance from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare as its custodian.

SOS Children’s Villages in Namibia was foundered in 1984 and present the organisation supporting Namibian children by providing day-care, education, medical assistance and other important services. The organisation has been running a family supporting programme for families that are at risk of abandoning their children.

Many NGOs have called on government to come to their rescue. This call was recently echoed by official opposition leader McHenry Venaani recently criticised the government during a meeting with NGOs saying it is unfortunate that local NGOs are solely dependent on foreign donors.

Venaani was quoted by New Era as saying that African governments must start owning up to the work of NGOs.

“I’m going to lobby very seriously and it’s something very close to my heart that our government should also look at the position to support even 20 percent of the NGO’s budget.

“Even if these foreign donors are withdrawing from our country, African governments must start filling the gap to sustain NGOs,” the president of DTA of Namibia said.

However, Tjaronda noted that there is a political will to assist non-governmental organisations, but the government is being scared aware by the bad reputation of financial mismanagement by some NGOs.

Meanwhile, Shihepo-Mulamata has called on the other non-governmental organisations to introduce sustainability strategies in order to avoid shutting down when the international donor pulls out.

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