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Governor appeals for drought emergency… as Kunene battles severe dry spell

2021-03-19  Staff Reporter

Governor appeals for drought emergency… as Kunene battles severe dry spell
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George Sanzila


OPUWO – Kunene regional governor Marius Sheya has appealed that a state of drought emergency be declared in the region to properly respond to the severe drought that harshly continues to affect communities and their animals. The Kunene region has endured a recurrent drought for the past eight years and the situation has degenerated into massive animal fatalities and constant migration of communities in search of good green pastures for their animals.

This information was revealed to members of parliament who are currently on a fact-finding mission in the Kunene region to determine the impact of the drought. The visit, that started Wednesday and continues until Sunday, is further meant to assess interventions already in place and come up with possible medium to long-term solutions to persisting drought and prevalent poverty in the region.

A motion was recently tabled and adopted in the National Assembly that led to the formation of a select committee of parliamentarians who were tasked to urgently conduct an investigation of the dire situation facing the Kunene region in order to complement efforts already underway ahead of the tabling of the national budget. Head of the parliamentary delegation Nono Katjingisiua noted that it was imperative for lawmakers to assess the disaster and report back to parliament for possible budgetary allocation to curtail the impact.

The Kunene region is largely inhabited by the indigenous and nomadic Ovahimba people who draw their livelihoods from animal husbandry. Even though Namibia received normal to above normal rainfall in most parts of the country, paradoxically, the same cannot be said of Kunene region that received a paltry amount of rain of between 20 to 25mm during the current rainy season. 

According to statistics provided by officials during the meeting, a total of over 17 000 small stock and close to 4 000 large stock have already perished since end of 2020 due to drought. Areas severely affected include Epupa, Khorixas, Opuwo Rural and Opuwo Urban and Sesfontein, where there has been a high number of livestock mortalities, human migration and a decline in crop production. 

Communities in areas such as Opuwo, Ombazu, Omandu, Omakange and Okauepehuri continue to bear the brunt of this calamity and some have trekked over 200 kilometres with their animals in search of good grazing. 

Basic necessities such as food, blankets and access to clean drinking water have become a big challenge for most people with the unexpected migration having further affected access to both health services and education for school-going children who are forced to follow their parents.

The governor stated that although disaster risk management structures already exist in the region, he has assembled a strong task team comprising of different stakeholders that is working together with the Office of the Prime Minister to properly respond to the disaster.

According to Sheya, even though government has made concerted efforts to avert further disaster, what seems to have exacerbated the situation is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that has equally competed for the available limited resources. The governor was delighted that a team of parliamentarians was constituted to assess the situation first hand and report back for further interventions.  

“The drought has been affecting our region for over eight years now. We are delighted that a team has come to visit us. This drought is recurrent and we have a serious situation with both the impact of the drought and Covid-19. Just over three weeks ago a team from the Office of the Prime Minister and agriculture visited us to do an assessment. We have already started distributing drought relief food even though we are doing this at a slow pace due to lack of reliable transport,” said the governor. 

The governor, who bemoaned the lack of reliable transport, added that the vastness of the region, coupled with a tough terrain and lack of vehicles, has made it very difficult to reach far-flung areas. 

“We have been trying to get help from the Namibian defence force to see if they can help to avail their trucks. We have also been appealing to the private sector and NGOs to join hands to supplement the efforts of government,” said Sheya.

Short-term interventions

According to the acting chief regional officer of the Kunene Regional Council, Josef Jantze, the regional council has been helping affected people with temporary shelter and over 250 households have currently received food assistance from the ongoing distribution of drought relief food since February this year. The registration of displaced persons is also ongoing.

Four affected constituencies, except Khorixas, have received bales of fodder to support their livestock. The directorate of rural water supply has been providing water through water tankers to communities that have relocated due to drought. These include those camped on the outskirts of Opuwo town and in areas such as Okakaiva, Kovaaindu and Okawaya. 

Jantze further noted that access to health services is made possible by the setting up of mobile clinics in affected areas, including counselling services. A report by the team from the Office of the Prime Minister further revealed that game meat through the ministry of environment, forestry and tourism, would be availed to affected communities to supplement their current food rations. Other interventions include the subsidisation of transport to affected livestock farmers who choose to relocate their animals to better grazing areas or who opt to lease grazing areas. Already, vaccination of animals in the region was conducted in February with a follow-up campaign envisaged in the few coming weeks targeting animals that were left out.

Long-term solutions

As part of long-lasting solutions to the recurrent drought, Sheya noted that there is a need to prioritise and fast-track the envisaged hydroponic fodder production project. Over 3 000 small-scale farmers have already been trained in this speciality countrywide including over 400 from Kunene region. Hydroponics, a cultivation process that uses low amounts of water, involves growing plants by merely using water and nutrients without soil.

The governor also believes that pumping water from both the Kunene river and the sea through the desalination method could change people’s livelihoods. “We need to prioritise the bales project. We also need to pump water from the Kunene river and the sea inland. An open canal may also help to change people’s livelihoods as well as the drilling, installation and rehabilitation of our boreholes,” said Sheya. 

The same sentiments were shared by member of parliament and former councillor in the Kunene region, Kazeongere Tjeundo.  

2021-03-19  Staff Reporter

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