'Death, destruction, dust, despair, and in dire need of rain.'
These words have become part of the new vocabulary of almost every farmer in the south of the country where five years of drought - and the last two years of record-smashing heat - have scorched the earth, with livestock carcasses on the barren land an everyday sight. While a private emergency drought fodder programme has brought temporary relief to 202 farmers and 91 680 animals over the past two weeks, producers are forced to ponder the abyss as options for survival slip by with every passing day.
Farmers like Koos Basson from the Koës area have their hopes pinned on agricultural minister Alpheus !Naruseb's announcement last week that government is contemplating declaring a national drought. Basson and many other farmers have reached breaking point and now have to slit the throats of the animals they love in an act of compassion. Cattle are so weak that they cannot get up any longer, despite farmers' relentless efforts to run up huge bills for fodder to try and feed the dying animals.
Many farmers have depleted their savings long ago and are now in huge debt with banks for borrowing money constantly. The ongoing drought is now one of the driest periods in the south's recorded farming history. Despite a rainstorm two weeks ago, most of the south remains in "exceptional" drought conditions. The five-year period since 2013 is the driest in decades. The current drought is the most extreme since the year 1992. Research show that the current lack of precipitation, while abnormal, isn't unprecedented even though the drought severity is. Severity is a product of both reduced rainfall and hot temperatures and researchers estimate that record high temperatures in recent years probably exacerbated the dry spell's severity by about 36 percent. Rising temperatures from climate change will worsen future droughts in the south.
"Climate change is not something far off in the future; it's something that's happening right now," one farmer is quoted as saying. Farmers like Basson remember the debilitating and devastating drought of 2013 and fear this year could turn into something even worse because of the accumulated effects of five years of dry spells since then. The situation remains abysmal, and now that the rainy season so far hasn't brought rain either, the drought underlines the importance of Namibia's efforts to become climate resilient. One factor that could make Namibia increasingly prone to drought and extreme weather patterns is climate change.
In terms of temperature a study found that over the last 40 years the frequency of days when it exceeds 35 degrees has increased, along with average maximum temperatures. The report also states that Namibia will continue to get warmer, with its most extreme prediction being an increase of 4 degrees Celsius by 2046.
As for rainfall, the report predicts Namibia could experience shorter periods of more intensive rainfall as well as much more variability in its climate. But with one of the world's most trying climates likely to get even more unpredictable and difficult to manage, the extent of what needs to be done to protect Namibians and their ways of life cannot be underestimated. Almost one million people out of Namibia's 2.4 million inhabitants face moderate to serious levels of food insecurity.
With little rainfall experienced thus far, farmers are describing the drought as among the harshest in a generation. The absence of precipitation has left many perplexed and concerned, their farms lurching towards economic ruin.
Forms to apply for drought relief to the Namibian Farmers Drought Relief Programme can be obtained from Henriëtte le Grange at 081 124 9670. A second relief programme was started last Friday. For details of that, Carol-Ann Mὅller can be contacted at 081 209 8169.