Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila says the government has set aside N$892 million to, among others, arrest food insecurity in the country and address drought-related issues, coupled with malnutrition.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said this in the National Assembly on Tuesday when she was responding to questions by the opposition about the hunger situation in the country.
Her response follows a report by New Era that brought to light how hunger has pushed the destitute Ovatjimba community into scavenging for goat skin last week.
The Prime Minister informed the assembly that her office has since rendered food assistance to the marginalised group.
“On the reported cases of hunger among the marginalised Ovatjimba communities in Otjikojo, a village located 25km west of Okangwati in the Kunene region, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and the poverty eradication ministry have provided the food assistance required,” Kuugongelwa-Amadhila revealed to the assembly.
She then added that between October 2023 and March 2024, approximately 695 000 people or about 172 000 households are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity and will require urgent humanitarian assistance.
“To remedy the situation of drought and food insecurity, the government, through the OPM, will roll out the drought relief programme – that is the food assistance and water provision – to drought-affected households in all the 14 regions, effective 1 October 2023 to June 2024, for food relief.”
She said the existing social safety net programmes, such as the San development programme, which provides food assistance to marginalised communities and the conditional food bank in urban centres, will continue to cater to areas where the drought programme is not reaching.
Confronting prevailing malnutrition cases in the country, she said the health ministry will continue with the nutrition programme, aimed at assessing acute malnourished persons and referring diagnosed cases to existing feeding programmes.
She said all of these were done after the OPM conducted the annual livelihood vulnerability assessments and analyses (VAA) from May to July 2023 in all 14 regions.
The analysis is provided for by section 13 of the Disaster Risk Management Act.
The assessments collected and analysed livelihood and food security data for the 2023/24 period to inform policy and further aid the understanding of threats of natural and socio-economic disasters to food and nutrition security.
Responding to the premier, Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) president McHenry Venaani accused the government of politicising the drought relief programme.
According to him, the N$892 million is a political ploy and abuse of voters in the current administration’s quest for re-election when Namibians go to the polls next year.
“This is political abuse. When Swapo campaigns countrywide, you are holding families at ransom; families are saying this is Swapo food and we cannot vote for another government,” Venaani charged.
According to the politician, mechanisms like drought relief are the livelihood of poor people in Namibia.
“Who decides on the dietary combination of the drought relief food? Because the food that we give to the poor is not even food that we eat in our own homes. Yes, due to cost, we might not be able to fill all the gaps but to try and feed a family that has not eaten properly in the last six months of the year, you are giving them maize, sometimes cooking oil, tin fish and beans. It’s a health hazard to many and can even cause constipation,” lamented Venaani.
Venaani also took issue with the rolling-out of the drought relief programme, saying in some cases, food meant for the destitute and drought-hit communities is left to rot in storage facilities.
“We have seen councillors delaying to deliver food to communities. They don’t go to the people. Councillors don’t go out. I visit more areas than councillors living in those areas – and that is the reality of the situation. It’s bad and dire,” fumed Venaani.
Adding his voice to the debate, Venaani’s colleague Vipuakuje Muharukua advanced that since there appears no end in sight for the drought situation that has gripped Namibia for years; it is best to adopt a proper drought mitigation strategy with urgency.
“Every single year, we call for this – and every single year, we are informed that Cabinet is discussing but Cabinet discussions never arrive at the strategy we are talking about; it always arrives at mitigation measures,” Muharukua said.
The lawyer-turned-politician continued: “Our drought relief measures are counterproductive because you have individuals with farmland and villages with water in abundance that is not optimally utilised. No agriculture works without subsidisation. Farmers who are in full-time employment are subsidising the farming ventures, including me, without government assistance”.
He questioned why the government and current leadership cannot think of proper and permanent mitigation measures to address drought relief issues in the country.
Jumping onto the bandwagon was Landless People’s Movement (LPM) leader and chief change campaigner, Bernadus Swartbooi.
“Climate change is a real thing; we are in a dry country, and that means we need to be extra prepared. There is nothing that should surprise us; we don’t need to wait for an annual assessment. We need to get our hands dirty and not only intervene because there is hunger,” said Swartbooi.
The LPM firebrand added the government has fallen short of getting to the bottom of climate change.
He then cast doubt on whether the drought relief programme personnel have the requisite specialisation to do policy reforms within the conceptual framework that deals with climate change and its mitigation.
“It’s [climate change] a whole new area of sustainable development that I think government is not recognising. We intervene when the indicators of drought are upon us and then we step away until the next indicators of a severe drought hit us,” Swartbooi said, adding that sporadic and ad hoc interventions are going to cost the country dearly.
“The statement made by the Prime Minister is nothing new. Six months ago, we knew from the United States Bureau of Weather that there is going to be this situation of drought in this region and to what extent.”
He said the drought relief is not sustainable, as it is all about “purchasing and distributing. Government becomes a retailer but there is much more they can do. Government spends raw cash whereas engaging in climate climate-resilient approach, they could create jobs and resolve the drought challenges at the same time. They can expand agriculture, diversify the crops and create self-sustainability, as well as distribute to the needy ones”.