One in three people in Namibia is at risk of malnutrition, the UN has warned, as the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa endures its worst drought for a generation.
The government declared a state of emergency after the failure of crops in May and pledged $20m (£13m) of relief for the worst-hit households. The Kunene region in the north has had no rain for two years, and families have been forced to sell livestock and migrate to cities in search of work.
After a summer lacking rains and a typically dry southern hemisphere winter, Unicef, the UN’s children agency, has appealed for millions more to tackle the situation.
“An estimated 778,000 Namibians, a third of the population, are either severely or moderately food insecure,” said Unicef, noting that this includes 109,000 under fives. “Against a backdrop of underlying fragility, including pre-existing high levels of food insecurity and maternal and child undernutrition (29% national stunting) combined with low sanitation coverage (14% in rural areas), children and women are particularly at risk of worsening health and nutrition status given the current drought conditions,” the agency added.
Unicef has appealed for $7.4m (£4.8m) to support efforts to respond to the needs of women and children affected by the drought. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is asking for $1.48m (£1m).
On Monday, an Associated Press (AP) report described how the drought has struck the village of Orupembe, forcing residents to go elsewhere in search of water and grazing ground for their livestock. More or less the only people left in the village, once home to 400, are about 20 police officers, said AP.
“They left for the other side of the mountain, looking for water for the cows,” Olani Imanul, the chief of police, told AP. “It has not rained for over two years here.”
The drought is being described as Namibia’s worst for 30 years, and some have been quick to blame climate change. When Namibia’s president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, declared a state of emergency in May, he said: “It has now been established that climate change is here to stay and humanity must find ways and means of mitigating its effect.” Crop production in some areas was expected to decrease by about 50% because of the lack of rain, he added.
Mark Leon Goldberg, author of the UN Dispatch blog, posted a video about the drought, observing: “Yet more evidence that the poorest people on the planet are most vulnerable to global climate change.”
But Dr Mary Seely, an associate at the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia, struck a note of caution. “We can’t say anything happening right now is because of climate change,” she said. “Some people will disagree with me of course.”
Seely, who has lived in Namibia since 1964, added: “We’ve had good rains for the last 10 years or so but nobody was doing any planning for the future. It’s a dry period, but that’s to be expected.”
Namibia, which won independence from neighbouring South Africa in 1990, is classified as a middle-income country, although a quarter of its 2 million population live in poverty. A third of Namibians are dependent on some form of subsistence farming.
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