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THERE is something disconcerting about life in Namibia these days. Although people are expected to have started preparing for cultivating their fields in the northern parts, they sit idly at home waiting for the belated rainy season to start.
Namibia’s epic drought, entering its fourth consecutive year, is combined with high temperatures. This is the second time in three years that government has declared a state of emergency.
Affected families The Namibian spoke to expressed gratitude for the government’s drought relief programme, but also appealed to government as well as the international community to speedily intervene as the escalating drought threatens their livestock as well.
The large population of Omusati is among those hit by the continuous dry spell and they have to trek, in some cases more than 30 kilometres, to get water for drinking and for domestic use.
Livestock mostly affected are those found in areas in the north-central and east of the region, where grazing is completely depleted after continuous years of insufficient rainfall.
The situation in the region, which has 110 388 people who need urgent drought relief food, is dire due to the shortages of grazing and water in many areas. Most water points have dried up, forcing residents to heavily depend on the Calueque-Oshakati canal.
Underground water in most of these areas is salty and not suitable for human and animal consumption, despite government efforts to extend water supply in areas south of the Okahao constituency, Otamanzi and Ruacana.
Theresia Kashivulika, a grandmother, sits under the shade of a tree close to her homestead, shielding herself from the burning northern sun. She stares into an empty dry field while some donkeys and goats wander around looking for food.
Kashivulika says those livestock do not belong to her. She has none.
“Those belong to neighbours. They move around from one field to the next, looking for food,” she says while adjusting her dress to turn and speak to The Namibian.
She said the drought in her village, Orange, has affected most households, and while the government’s drought relief programme provides two bags of maize meal and four tins of fish, her ration for October did not include the fish.
“As you can see, the fields are still dry and waiting for rain before we can start preparing for cultivation. If this goes on, more animals will soon die, and then people too,” Kashivulika said.
Evelina Nashimbuli does not stay far from Kashivulika, and out of curiosity walks over to her neighbour and joins in the conversation.
Nashimbuli said during the good rainy days when harvesting went well, her family would get about five 25kg bags of mahangu flour from their field, but since the drought set in, they have not managed even one.
Nashimbuli is also one of those benefiting from government’s drought relief programme. She weaves and sells traditional baskets to complement these efforts as the two bags of maize only last for between two and three weeks.
“We cannot just sit and wait for government to do everything as they have many other people to support. The situation is getting worse, especially for the animals. We are praying and hoping it will rain soon,” she noted.
Omusati governor Erginus Endjala told The Namibian last month that apart from the shortage of grazing and water, there are other factors which also worsened the situation.
Endjala said after the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease in the four northern regions, Meatco closed its operations in the whole north of Namibia. This made it difficult for the farmers to reduce the number of animals in their kraals.
“The tally I have received from the farmers when I engaged them on how to reduce the number of animals to a manageable level to save the grazing was that this year alone, farmers were prepared to sell approximately 80 000 from the 300 000 head of cattle in the whole region, not including donkeys and small livestock like goats and sheep,” he explained.
Endjala said although provision was made in some areas where water was sourced through the Olushandja-Uuvudhiya canal by NamWater, the large areas are still faced with severe shortages of water.
These are Amarika, Onamatanga and many remote areas of the region, which have a concentration of grazing areas for many cattle posts.
Endjala said he recommends that provision be made for more earth dams in the area to harvest more water.
The chairperson of the Omusati regional council, Modestus Amutse, said the impact of the drought is now being felt among the community, especially with the reduction of government drought relief rations.
Amutse said close to 200 000 people are struggling to make ends meet due to a lack of food and potable water, while a quarter of the population may starve if rains do not come.
“It is tough, but we are trying to tackle the situation head-on,” he said.
According to Amutse, the opening of the water flow from the Olushandja dam through the Etaka canal to Uuvudhiya rescued many farmers in the Omusati and Oshana regions as livestock got water.
“People are very happy with government’s decision to reopen the canal, and have asked that the infrastructure be gradually upgraded with concrete slabs to avoid water sinking into the ground. The community also urged government to always pump water into the canal as soon as natural water catchments dry up to avoid having a dry spell while people wait for water,” Amutse said.
Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila earlier in July said the government must raise N$655 million for drought relief food for the period August 2016 to March 2017.
The spokesperson in the Office of the Prime Minister, Saima Shaanika, on Monday said government has so far raised over N$300 million from the national budget and donations. She said government will ensure that the distribution of drought relief food continues to the affected community until March 2017.
The 2016/17 livelihood vulnerability report released in July says the drought currently ravaging Namibia has exposed 729 134 people to food insecurity.