12 August 2013

Namibia: Severe Drought Taking Heavy Toll in Northern Namibia

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The parched soil did not yield any vegetables, and the family's six cattle have all died. "For now, we are eating once a day," she said. "The children are going to bed hungry, and when they wake up, there's nothing to give them."

Five of her family members have gone to Opuwo in search of work, an increasingly common response to the drought, according to Kakarandua Mutambo, regional manager for the Namibia Red Cross Society (NRCS).

"Government aid is taking time," Mutambo said, adding that it is only targeting rural households. With more families move closer to town in the hope of earning an income, NRCS is about to open a soup kitchen there that will initially feed 200 children once a day.

UNICEF is also partnering with NRCS to provide funding and technical support for the training of volunteers in four of the most affected regions, including Kunene.

They will be deployed to communities to educate residents about basic health and hygiene practices and to screen vulnerable children for signs of malnutrition. A pilot health extension workers programme in Opuwo District, also funded by UNICEF, has similar goals of providing basic health services and information to under-served communities.

Malnutrition rates rising

Nhamoinesu Mudadi-Benhura, acting principal medical officer at the Engela District Hospital in hard-hit Ohangwena Region, said that admissions for paediatric malnutrition had increased by 76 percent since March, with 30 cases recorded in June and eight deaths. Nationally, a total of 46 malnutrition-related deaths had been recorded by July this year, but how many of the deaths were directly linked to the drought is difficult to determine.

Namibia is classified as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank, but malnutrition remains a chronic problem in many poor households, with 29 percent of children affected by stunting, according to UNICEF. Children are often only diagnosed after the malnutrition has become severe and follow-up is frequently lacking, said Mudadi-Benhura.

"The problem is support after they leave hospital," he said. "Even if you give Plumpy'nut [a peanut-based paste used to treat malnutrition], that child has siblings, and it will be shared."

Mudadi-Benhura noted that the majority of malnourished children admitted to his hospital came from makeshift settlements on the outskirts of towns, where there is no space to grow crops and poor sanitation causes diarrhoea and other illnesses that contribute to the problem.

Riondjovi Mupia, 28, and her three children moved to one such settlement near Opuwo four months ago, when the vegetable patch she had relied on for an income failed due to lack of rain. For a few weeks she earned a small income working in a shop in town, but that job has since ended. There was nothing to feed the children besides a few maize kernels, which she was toasting over a fire when IRIN arrived.

"I registered for food aid, but I haven't received anything," she said.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

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