The last five years have cost Namibia millions, if not billions, to cater for drought-stricken human beings and animals. Government and the private sector joined hands to help those in need, and when President Hage Geingob declared his first state of emergency, one must admit that the declaration came a bit too late. Following the declaration, Government should now tell the nation how it will deal with the catastrophe.
After all, the declaration came a day before the first food bank was opened. As a nation, we are keen to know what Government will do differently from what it has been doing all these years. The drought has exposed Government’s lack of forward planning, there seems to be no drought plan. Such disasters cannot be dealt with impromptu, you need to have systems in place to address it as soon as it occurs.
The rural communities are particularly hardest hit by the drought, hundreds of cattle died and families had to endure nights without a meal because they could not fend for themselves.
The situation was made worse by the poorly coordinated drought relief aid distribution scheme. Through this scheme, Government intended to provide food to over 500 000 starving Namibians. However, the logistical arrangements were such a mess that all intended recipients ended up not receiving food parcels. Transport companies used the exercise as a cash cow by providing transport services to Government at exorbitant prices. This was possible because the rates were not static.
Despite the efforts to dish out food to the needy, Government’s cumbersome payment system was once more exposed during the exercise when those contracted to work on the programme constantly cried over unpaid monies.
Some workers even left their work stations after failing to receive money due to them.
These are all challenges that need to be addressed if the drought relief programme is to yield the desired results. Government’s inability to synchronise its programmes continues to cost the state dearly – both in terms of money and service delivery. Millions were spent to setup green schemes and agricultural hubs but the projects do not talk to each other. Instead of having green schemes supplying produce directly to the agricultural hubs, the produce goes to the shops and only a handful to the hubs. But it would make more sense if all the produce is sent to the food hubs and then out to the market.
Also, despite the existence of green scheme, little or no produce came from those public-funded investments to help drought-stricken Namibians. It cannot be right that projects funded by taxpayers are not being used to assist those very taxpayers when push comes to shove. The UN recently announced that one of the strongest El Niño events ever recorded has placed the lives of 26.5 million children at risk of malnutrition, water shortages and disease in 10 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.
It warned that children face protection risks as families and communities move in search of work, food, water and grazing land for animals. Children are also finding it difficult to stay in school, due to hunger and/or lack of water. El Niño is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years. It raises sea surface temperatures and impacts weather systems around the globe so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.
UNICEF added that it found that more than one million children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Moreover, water shortages remain a key concern, with many health facilities and schools in critical need of improved water supplies and sanitation facilities to enable the continuity of services. In Southern Africa in particular, drought is making life even more precarious for children affected by HIV.
Now that an emergency has been declared, Government needs to mobilise all its resources and swiftly formulate a plan of action to avoid loss of lives due to hunger or drought-related diseases. The bureaucratic processes need to be identified and corrected.