Q&A: Tackling Namibia's food security crisis

Almost a third of Namibia is facing food insecurity following a drought.

    The Red Cross says Namibia is heading for a catastrophe if immediate action isn't taken [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]
    The Red Cross says Namibia is heading for a catastrophe if immediate action isn't taken [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

    Windhoek, Namibia-  Almost one-third of the country's population in all thirteen regions of Namibia face moderate to high level of food insecurity after rains failed in this southern African country for a second year.

    With crops failing, cattle dying, and even boreholes drying up, the Red Cross says the country is headed for catastrophe if immediate action is not taken.

    With the effects of the drought already evident, economists predict a slowing of the economy as meat exports diminish and the country becomes even more dependent on imported food as a means to counter its battered rural economy.  The international community, however, has responded slowly to calls by the Namibian government, as well as the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), for assistance. Namibia, considered the driest country in southern Africa, is no stranger to drought but farmers claim that this year's drought threatens to strip them off everything.

    But Namibia is not the only country affected by the current drought and rising corn prices. The Famine Early Warning Network Service (FEWS) warned on September 3 that reduced corn production across the region, including South Africa has created a ricochet of high prices and acute food insecurity in neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi.

    Al Jazeera talks to Alexander Matheou, IFRC Regional Representative for Southern Africa about the impact of the drought in Namibia and why the world ought to take notice before the effects spiral out of control.

    AJ: The impact of the drought appears to be at the beginning stages. Why is it necessary to act now?

    IFRC: Slow onset disasters are not visually shocking until their final stages. One day is barely different from the next. You need to measure changes over longer time frames. How much were people eating two years ago and how much are they eating now? How much did people own two years ago and how much do they own now? It is a gradual downward slide. The challenge is to intervene while people still have the health and assets to recover as independently as possible.

    AJ: In terms of needs, what are the immediate needs of the communities in question?

    IFRC: In Namibia, food aid is being requested across the country as the greatest need. There is a responsibility, however, to think beyond the immediate need for food. There needs to be a realistic end in sight for the distributions. In the case of Namibia, this would be around April 2014, which is long enough after the rains for crops to grow.    

    AJ: Food aid will only help in the interim, what would be the next step?

    IFRC: The aim of the response is to preserve lives and livelihoods until the next rains. The aim of preserving life will come in the form of hot food in urban areas, food distribution by the government in more rural areas, and possibly cash to enable people to independently prioritise their food or medical needs. It will also repair water supplies, particularly for public buildings such as schools and hospitals. To preserve livelihoods, communities will be supported with seeds and tools and in maintaining livestock. 

    Over 30 children have died from malnutrition-related causes this year in Namibia, and the number will surely rise if this emergency response is not scaled up. The response will reduce, and hopefully stop altogether, anymore malnutrition-related deaths. It will also keep the population healthier and better able to recover economically.

    AJ: As it stands what are the possible long term effects of this drought on rural communities facing such heightened levels of food insecurity?

    IFRC: The long term effects of drought are hard to measure. Families that have lost all their livestock may be forced to migrate to towns and become casual labourers. Other families will become more dependent on community help or government social protection. Malnourished small children may find their cognitive capacities and immunes system permanently weakened.   

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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