New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: We Guzzle Beer Like None Other!

Windhoek — In 2011 Namibia Breweries Ltd (NBL) managed to sell roughly one million hectolitres of beer through local retailers and a rather extensive chain of booze outlets.

This staggering amount excludes the volumes of South African-brewed beer brands and a whole range of other imported beer consumed during that year. Managing Director of NBL, Wessie van der Westhuizen, revealed these figures on CNN's Eye On series aired recently, that focused on Namibia's booming beer business.

According to Group Corporate Relations Manager at NBL, Gideon Shilongo, this amount of NBL beer is the equivalent of 100 million litres of beer, which translates to 220 truckloads of beer being sold locally per month.

"For a country with 2.2 million people, that is quite a lot. If I compare that to South Africa, where there is a population of about 55 million people, we've managed just below one million hectolitres," emphasised Van der Westhuizen.

CNN international correspondent, Robyn Curnow, conveyed on international television that the consumption rate of beer and alcoholism in Namibia are simply too high.

"With youth unemployment estimated to be around 70 percent, according to some government statistics, there [is] the worry that poverty and a lack of opportunity are fuelling a growing drinking problem," he reported.

Managing Director at the Okonguari Psychotherapeutic Centre outside Otjiwarongo on the way to Khorixas, Dr Ina de Lange, told New Era approximately 500 patients visit the centre every month for various problems of which about 50 percent are related to alcohol abuse.

She reiterated that alcohol abuse is a substantial problem in Namibia and explained that the abuse is usually a symptom of a deeper lying problem. "It is used as a coping measure," she said.

De Lange said it is advisable for Namibia to focus on creating proactive community programmes such as recreation or cultural centres, which are in short supply in the country taking into account the magnitude of the problem.

Only a handful of rehabilitation centres exist in the country, including Nova Vita Rehabilitation Centre in Windhoek and several others in Walvis Bay and the psychiatric units at state hospitals, among others.

Furthermore, De Lange emphasised that patients leaving rehabilitation centres need a support system for at least two years such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) - however these are only found in Swakopmund and Windhoek.

Self-Regulating Alcohol Industry Forum (SAIF) Co-ordinator, Horst Heimstadt, explained that the equivalent of a responsible drinker is someone who takes three or less drinks per day, six times per week with one day off.

Heimstadt acknowledged that people living in the economically depressed or disadvantaged areas consume a lot of alcohol to the extent of abusing it, mainly due to frustration and a loss of hope.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) conducted a Knowledge Attitude Practice study in 2002, which revealed that out of 56 percent of citizens older than 18 years, 67 percent consumed home-brewed alcohol and another 6 percent consumed distilled alcohol, according to Heimstadt.

Although he did not completely agree with the findings of the study, Heimstadt conceded that the figures indicate that Namibians consume harmful substances, which is almost impossible to control.

He further said home-brewed alcohol is cheaper, however there are no measures of quality control and they could therefore be harmful and unfit for human consumption. "Poverty and unemployment promote a thriving illicit market," he said, explaining that neutral alcohol (used for medicine or cleaning agents) mixed with flavourants and colourants are sold as whisky and brandy.

NBL's Shilongo further revealed that beer stocks usually run low during the Christmas season due to the many festivities taking place, which result in the supplier struggling to cope. "We ran out of stock five years ago, but now we manage," he said, adding that the demand for beer has stabilised to an annual growth of 3 percent compared to about 5 percent in previous years.

He said NBL runs many awareness campaigns against irresponsible drinking, especially targeting schools and the youth. "Our packaging material discourages underage drinking," he said, and advised that consumers should only drink what the body can handle. "We work with shebeens and bar owners to observe the regulations of the Liquor Act and we advise them not to sell to an individual who is clearly already drunk," he added.

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