UNICEF Steps Up to Aid Namibia as Drought Worsens

Namibia is currently facing its worst drought in three decades. Located in southwest Africa, Namibia is one of the driest countries in the world. All 13 regions of Namibia have been affected by the drought with major shortages of food and water, but the north has been hit the worst. In order to compensate, many families are forced to sell livestock, reduce the number of meals per day, or migrate to the cities in search of work. Angola has also been affected by the drought. With migrants from both Angola and Namibia flooding into nearby countries in search of food, the crisis is beginning to take on a regional dimension.

In Namibia’s northwestern Kunene region, agriculture is limited by the area’s dry and sandy soil. Local populations are semi-nomadic and rely heavily on livestock. In search of fresh pasture, these local populations have been forced from their villages and their traditional way of life. The young men are visibly absent from the region, as many of them have left their villages to find the distant stretches of pasture for their livestock.

Typically, Namibia experiences only light and erratic seasonal rains. For the last thirty years, the country has experienced low seasonal rainfall. But after a second year of failed rains, the country is now in a state of emergency. Because of the prolonged dry season, the Government estimates that 2013 crop yields will be 42 percent lower than those of 2012. With only one harvest per year, the country will not see another harvest season until March 2014. Namibia’s cereal crop output is expected to be 50 percent below average. A third of the population, some 780,000 people, are at risk of malnutrition – this includes 110,000 children under the age of five.

When declaring a state of emergency, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohama said, “It has now been established that climate change is here to stay and humanity must find ways and means of mitigating its effect.” The Namibian government has committed $20.7 million in assistance to affected people, but aid so far has been insufficient.The Namibian government has warned that there might not be enough water for its people, which puts livestock at risk, further prolonging the crisis. Many families have applied for food aid, but few have received anything.

In order to help the 110,000 children at risk of malnutrition in Namibia, UNICEF has pledged $7.4 million to the country. According to Micaela Marques De Sousa, UNICEF’s Namibia representative, “Shortages of food and water are increasing the immediate threat of disease and malnutrition…But anecdotal reports already indicate children are dropping out of school, a clear sign of stress and vulnerability in families.” In addition, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has issued an appeal for $1.45 million, in hopes of helping 55,000 people in Northern Namibia.

Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: Reuters, The Guardian, OCHA, UN News Centre, The Washington Post, IOL News, IRIN Africa, ReliefWeb, UNICEF
Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation