No rain, no planting, no food – drought concern in Namibia

By Hanna Butler, IFRC

It’s the end of the harvest season in Namibia. People should be busy storing food for the year ahead. Instead 14 per cent of the population is in need of urgent food assistance as drought grips the country.

A national emergency has been declared by the government in Namibia, after significantly below average rainfall across most of the country caused crop failure, maize production to drop by 40 per cent and livestock to die. An estimated 330,925 people are food insecure and 447,577 moderately food insecure. And it is expected to worsen before it gets better.

Aipanda Petrus’ fields of maize in Omusati are dead, one of the worst affected regions of the north. “This is my family farm. You can see all the crops have been burnt off. There are only weeds left,” she says. “I have 14 people in my family to feed. When we have normal rainfall we grow enough to feed everyone.”

But as she stares down at the cracked ground, she struggles to remember the last time there was normal rainfall. “Maybe we had rain in 2005,” she says. “This year we will need help from the government to eat and survive.”

Currently 30 per cent of families affected by drought have enough food for only one meal a day. Stanley Ndhlovu, disaster management coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in southern Africa, says the biggest concern as the drought progresses is the impact on nutrition and the negative behaviours people may adopt in order to cope. “Food prices will go up, people will reduce their meals, and sell their livestock and other valuable assets. People tend to migrate. Families split up to look for food and children could be pulled out of school to help work for more food.”

For now Aipanda is coping, but she knows the food they have in storage will not last long. “We used to have varied meals with beans and corn, now it’s just smaller servings of maize porridge and rice. The kids eat first. We adults can find a way to eat, the children can’t. The cattle cry for food and eat sand. I wanted to sell them, but no one will buy them because they are too skinny.”

As water becomes scarce, there will only be enough for cooking and drinking. “Water affects all aspects of life. Access to water for washing will also be a problem. Waterborne diseases will develop and personal health conditions will deteriorate. It is another huge impact on communities that are already struggling,” said Ndhlovu.

The IFRC is working closely with the Namibia Red Cross to develop an emergency appeal to provide immediate assistance to communities affected by the drought. With the next harvest season a year away, the situation is likely to worsen. Recovery from drought requires long-term commitment and its impacts will be felt for years to come.

Aipandra is simply waiting for the rain so she can feed her family. “The rain feeds us. No rain, no planting, no food.”