A severe drought that sparked a state of emergency in Namibia has left 400,000 people facing hunger, the government said.

The government has been criticised for failing to do enough to provide relief to people during the worst dry spell to hit the country in decades.

But the chairman of the Disaster Risk Management Committee defended the government's performance as he announced the new figure on Tuesday.

"We are trying to do the best we can to make sure that the food goes to the intended people. So far so good," he said.

It is too early to say whether the seasonal rains, which begin in late November, will be enough to satisfy the demands of the farmers; we can only hope they do.

Richard Angwin,
Al Jazeera meteorologist

Al Jazeera meteorologist Richard Angwin said that Namibia is one of the driest countries in the world. Seasonal rains are very light and erratic at the best of times.

“Take Walvis Bay, for example. Well known to tourists for its nearby abundant birdlife, including flamingos, the city receives just 22mm of rain in the entire year," he said.

"The capital, Windhoek, fares somewhat better with an annual total of 360mm.

“Coastal regions derive a little moisture from fog which develops over the cool coastal waters, but that only contributes a few millimetres at most. It is too early to say whether the seasonal rains, which begin in late November, will be enough to satisfy the demands of the farmers; we can only hope they do”.

State of emergency

The number of people at risk from hunger has risen from 300,000 in May, when President Hifikepunye Pohamba declared a state of emergency.

In May, the government started handing out maize meal bags to rural areas in a central part of the country and authorities are appealing for international support.

UNICEF says more than 778,000 people including 109,000 children under the age of five are at risk of malnutrition.

The organisation says it needs about $22m to support those people.

The dry spell has destroyed grazing land and raised concerns about the country's spectacular wildlife, which attracts vital tourist income.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies