Hundreds of thousands in need of urgent food assistance as extensive drought grips Namibia

Published: 8 July 2013

With a bleak forecast ahead, Red Cross appeals for immediate support

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal of 1,215,010 Swiss francs (1,284,959 US dollars) to assist thousands of people affected by the worst drought to hit Namibia in decades.

Fourteen per cent of the population of Namibia (331,000 people) is in need of urgent food assistance, and 30 per cent of affected families are existing on one meal a day, after significantly less rainfall has caused crops to fail, livestock to die, and boreholes to dry up.

According to the Ministry of Health and Social Services, 53 malnourished children were admitted to hospitals in the northern region of Kunene during the first six months of this year; eight of those children later died.

"We often fail to see the tipping point in slow disasters like drought, especially in remote locations. Bit by bit people eat less, get sick more often, go to school less frequently, sell their belongings. It is a slow process not a single event,” said Alexander Matheou, IFRC regional representative for southern Africa. “Yet if we fail to act, malnutrition, especially in newborns, will have an irreversible effect on health and brain development, and in the some cases, will take the child's life."

The availability of water at the household level has also dropped significantly, forcing families to use and drink unclean or contaminated water which is shared by animals. Most households are now using their limited funds to buy food instead of water.

“With the next harvest season not until next March, it is likely this situation will rapidly worsen,” said Dorkas Kapembe-Haiduwa, Namibia Red Cross Society Secretary General. “People are already living from meal to meal and have no means to secure food. Harvest from their crops and gardens, which is usually enough to last the year, has already, or is about, to run out. Without humanitarian assistance, people will not have any access to food.”

While the drought affects the entire country, the hardest hit regions are in the north where people make a living as cattle farmers. Many are resorting to selling these valuable assets, but cattle prices have recently dropped, leaving farmers with very little.

The IFRC response to the drought will last 12 months. Working through staff and volunteers at the Namibia Red Cross Society, 55,000 of the most affected and vulnerable people will receive assistance, with priority given to subsistence farmers, female-headed households and households of the chronically ill, people living with HIV/AIDS and the elderly.

Interventions will focus on water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives, and food provision, through soup kitchens, the strengthening and establishment of kitchen gardens, and distribution of drought-tolerant seeds.

For further information or to set up interviews, please contact:

In Botswana:
•Alexander Matheou, regional representative, IFRC southern Africa
Mobile: +267 71 39 53 40, E-mail: alexander.matheou@ifrc.org
•Hanna Butler, regional communications officer, IFRC southern Africa
Mobile: +267 71 30 58 79, E-mail: hanna.butler@ifrc.org
In Addis Ababa:
•Katherine Mueller, communications manager, IFRC Africa
Mobile: +251 930 03 3413, E-mail: katherine.mueller@ifrc.org
In Geneva:
•Jessica Sallabank, media relations officer, IFRC
Mobile: +41 799 481 148, E-mail : jessica.sallabank@ifrc.org

Photographs of drought affected areas in Namibia are available from the IFRC’s image library at http://www.ifrc.org/en/news-and-media/image-library/