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Namibians living off wild fruit after worst drought in decades

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Namibia, the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa after being struck by the worst drought in 30 years, declared a national emergency earlier this year. The drought has resulted in crop failure and livestock deaths across the tiny country of 2.1 million people. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, or IFRC, has launched an appeal to the international community for help.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Many Namibians are surviving off wild fruits as there is no harvest in sight until March of next year. Maize production is 34 percent below average. Fourteen percent of the Namibian population need immediate food aid.

"A lot of the people I met had nothing in their food stores, absolutely nothing," Hanna Butler of the IFRC said, after her visit of Kunene, one of the worst hit regions in northern Namibia. "People are foraging for wild fruits . Everyone just told me: 'I have nothing. I'm not sure what's going to happen.'"

Windhoek, the nation's capital only received 6.5 inches of rain between October and April, less than half the average for a rainy season. It's the lowest reported figure for rainfall on record since 1981/82.

It will only get worse as Namibia only has only one annual. The next is not due until March 2014. "The situation will rapidly deteriorate," Butler said. "The shock is yet to happen."

Namibians are showing signs of malnutrition and even the wild fruits are growing scarce. The local government reports that eight out of 53 malnourished children admitted to hospitals in Kunene in the first six months of the year have died.

"We often fail to see the tipping point in slow disasters like drought," Alexander Matheou, IFRC representative for southern Africa, said in a statement. "If we fail to act, malnutrition, especially in newborns, will have an irreversible effect on health and brain development, and in some cases, will take the child's life."

Neighboring Angola has also appealed for help to cope with a second year of failed rains. Relief agencies estimate that between 640,000 and one million Angolans have been hit by the drought.

"Both Angola and Namibia are experiencing a slow onset emergency which needs to be addressed urgently before a full disaster unfolds," the ACT Alliance, a coalition of church groups, said in a June 26 appeal.

People are migrating in both directions across the border in search of help. "A lot of people (in northern Namibia) told me that they are heading towards Angola because they can get more money to sell them (their cattle) in Angola if the cattle can make it," Butler said.

At the same time, the Namibia Red Cross is still responding to floods that hit the Caprivi region in March. "It's the two extremes. It is droughts and floods in Namibia. People are dealing with both," Butler said.

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