Putting a face to hunger as drought takes hold in Namibia

By Saara Iipinge, Namibia Red Cross Society

They are the cries of hunger that leave a mother feeling utterly helpless. And Uthona Kulunga, a mother of 11 children, is running out of options. “The situation is so critical that come July, I don’t think we will be surviving this poverty. We have run out of food and I have nothing to feed my family. We might even die,” she says.

Kulunga lives in the village of Etoto in the Kunene region of northern Nigeria; a region among the most affected by the drought that is gripping this country, the worst drought it has experienced in 30 years. Coupled with that, is a poor harvest, so food stocks families normally would have relied on, simply are not there.

A visit to Kulunga’s homestead finds children between the ages of three and five years old looking after the house while their mother and the rest of the family walk seven kilometres to reach a point for emergency food distribution.

Kulunga waits at the site with hundreds of hungry women and their children; some of them sleep at the site, eagerly waiting for the distribution to start. Kulunga carries one of her six month old twins; her five-year-old carries the other. A boy of eight waits to carry whatever food they get. The twins are at risk of starvation. Kulunga says they eat only one meal a day, some porridge mixed with water.

“I am unable to breastfeed my two children normally as I used to do, because I am also hungry,” says the worried mother. “I don’t have milk and my children cry most of the time because there is nothing for them.”

They wait with the other families all day and nothing comes, but Kulunga cannot leave; she has no food at home and this is her only hope.

Apart from food, access to water is also a huge problem. The situation has worsened in the past six months as the drought took hold, causing livestock of several communal farmers to perish. There are no existing wells and some boreholes have dried up.

The Government of Namibia has declared a national drought emergency. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies responded by launching an emergency appeal for 1,215,010 Swiss francs ($1,292,220 US dollars) to support 55,000 vulnerable people over the next 12 months.

Working through the Namibia Red Cross Society and its staff and volunteers, interventions will focus on water, sanitation and hygiene activities, and the provision of food through direct distribution, kitchen gardens and drought tolerant seeds to help build the capacity of people to cope the next time there is a drought.

For Kulunga, trying to quiet the cries of her 11 hungry children, the help cannot come fast enough.