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Namibia: Hundreds of thousands affected by drought

19 Jul 2013


July 2013, Kunene, Namibia: A family waits outside a Red Cross food distribution point in Kunene Province, northern Namibia. An estimated 330,000 people are in need of immediate food assistance. Credit: IFRC/Hannah Butler
An estimated 780,000 thousand people in Namibia are food insecure, with 330,000 in need of immediate assistance. Humanitarian organizations are appealing for support.

An estimated 780,000 people – approximately one third of Namibia’s entire population – are now classified as food insecure. Of these, 330,000 people are in need of urgent support, according to the Government, which declared a state of emergency on 17 May.

A prolonged dry season has resulted in widespread crop failure across the country. The Government estimates that the 2013 harvest will produce 42 per cent less than the 2012 harvest. An estimated 4,000 livestock have died.

The situation is particularly severe in the north of the country, and along the Caprivi strip – the thin sliver of Namibia that is wedged between Botswana, Angola and Zambia.

Humanitarian agencies respond

Humanitarian aid agencies have launched appeals to help communities affected by the drought and food crisis. The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, has launched an appeal for about US$7.4 to fund its response efforts for the rest of 2013.

Patrick McCormick, UNICEF’s spokesperson in Geneva, told UN Radio that his organization will be targeting women and children affected by the drought.

“We will be focusing on the prevention and treatment of malnutrition and disease, and …supporting children’s access to education. (There) are … 109,000 children under five at risk of malnutrition after almost three decades of low seasonal rainfall, and a second year of failed rains.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has also issued an appeal for about $1.45 million. In partnership with the Namibian Red Cross Society, they aim to help about 55,000 people in northern Namibia.

Namibia Red Cross’ Saara Iipinge recently visited the northern province of Kunene.

“Apart from food, access to water is also a huge problem. The situation has worsened in the past six months as the drought took hold, causing livestock of several communal farmers to perish. There are no existing wells and some boreholes have dried up.”

Angolan communities also affected

In southern Angola, reports from the government, the UN and the few aid agencies on the ground suggest that approximately 1.5 million people in five provinces are food insecure. An assessment carried out by the international NGO Caritas in early June in Namibe Province found 250,000 people in need of support, following the failure of 70 per cent of crops as a result of a lack of rain.

UNICEF has appealed for $14.3 million to fund its Angola drought response. Access to water is becoming increasingly difficult, said spokesperson Patrick McCormick.

“Angola has entered a prolonged dry season and millions of children may be potentially impacted by the drought. Water levels are quickly decreasing and about 40-50 per cent of water points are no longer functioning."

A regional state of chronic crisis

The situation confronting communities in northern Namibia and southern Angola is indicative of a wider trend in the region, says Ignacio Leon, the Head of the OCHA office for southern Africa.

“There is a perception that southern Africa is a region that’s not often affected by disasters. It’s seen as homogenous or even low-risk,” he said.

“But the reality is that, since 2000, there have been 47 emergencies in the region that have demanded international assistance. These crises have affected at least 14 million people.”

These figures come from a report - "Humanitarian Trends in Southern Africa: Challenges and Opportunities" – that was commissioned by the Southern African Regional Inter-Agency Standing Committee (RIASCO) - a platform for regional humanitarian coordination and information sharing that is chaired by OCHA.

The report, which will be published in the coming weeks, highlights the fact that communities in southern Africa, like those in Namibia and Angola, often suffer through multiple and repetitive crises, a cycle that prevents them from ever fully recovering.

Saara Iipinge of the Red Cross agrees. “Some of these drought-affected communities are still recovering from devastating floods earlier this year,” she said.