Members of Parliament making up the select committee tasked to investigate the impact of drought in the Kunene region witness the handing over of drought relief food to affected Ovahimba communities together with Kunene regional Governor, Hon. Marius Sheya yesterday (17/03/21). The aim of the visit that started yesterday and ends on Sunday (21/03/21) is to determine the extent of the disaster and report back to parliament for further interventions
|Story by George Sanzila
Opuwo - Kunene regional Governor, Hon. Marius Sheya has appealed for the declaration of a state of drought emergency in the region in order to properly respond to the severe drought that continues to affect communities and their animals. The Kunene region has endured a recurrent drought for the past 8 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 today (17/03/2021) and continues until Sunday (21/03/2021), 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 by Hon. Vipuakuje Muharukua and unanimously adopted in the National Assembly leading 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 Parliament delegation, Hon. Nono Katjingisiua noted that it was imperative for lawmakers to assess the disaster and report back to parliament for possible budgetary allocation necessary to curtail the impact.
The Kunene region is largely inhabited by the indigenous and nomadic people of the Ovahimba who draw their livelihood from animal husbandry. Even though Namibia received normal to above normal rainfall in most parts of the country, paradoxically, the same cannot be said about Kunene region that is said to have received a paltry amount of rain of between 20 to 25 milimetres 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 urban and Seisfontein where there has been a high number of livestock mortality, 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 as some of them have trekked for over 200 kilometres with their animals in search of good grazing pastures. A large number of makeshift camps have sprung up on the outskirts of Opuwo town together with their animals that have been relocated for better pastures. The devastating drought has also left a trail of decomposed carcasses of small livestock, reminding farmers of the cruelty of this tragedy. 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 there are already disaster risk management structures existing 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 Hon. Sheya, even though government has made concerted efforts to avert further disaster, what seem 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 has been constituted to assess the situation first hand and report back for further interventions.
“The drought has been affecting our region for over 8 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 have made it very difficult to reach the far flung areas of the region. “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”, stated Hon. Sheya.
Short term interventions
According to the acting Chief Regional Officer of the Kunene Regional council, Josef Jantze, regional council has been helping affected people with temporal shelter and over 250 households have currently received food assistance from the ongoing distribution of drought relief food since February of this year. The registration of displaced persons is also ongoing. Four affected constituencies except for 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 a the few coming weeks targeting animals that were left out.
Long term solutions
As part of long lasting solutions to the recurrent drought in the region, Hon. Sheya suggested that there is a need to prioritise and fast track the envisaged hydroponic fodder production project. Over 3000 small scale farmers have been trained in this speciality countrywide including over 400 from the Kunene region. Hydroponics, a process that has the advantage to use low amounts of water, involves growing plants by merely using water and nutrients without soil. The governor also believes that the pumping of water from both the Kunene river and the sea through the desalination method could change people’s livelihood. “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 livelihood as well as the drilling, installation and rehabilitation of our boreholes”, said Hon. Sheya. The same sentiments were shared by Member of parliament and former councillor in the Kunene region, Hon. Kazeongere Tjeundo.
While contributing to the motion in Parliament recently, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Hon. Anna Shiweda revealed that government has so far drilled 16 boreholes, installed 19 and rehabilitated 18 water points in the Kunene region. In the Opuwo rural constituency, one of areas mostly affected by the drought, two new boreholes were drilled and the existing six boreholes were fitted with the required extraction equipment. She further revealed at the time that a water pipeline project was planned to supply water in Kunene and Omusati regions passing through the areas of Olushandja west – Onesi-Okaambola – Omakange and Opuwo. Funding for this pipeline project has already been secured from the African Development Bank with work expected to commence in the current financial year.
Hon. Shiweda added that the Sysfontein – Chowarib green scheme as well as the hydroponic fodder production projects would soon be implemented as part of long term solutions. An early warning system meant to help strengthen farmers’ adaptation strategies in order to avert further disasters is also under development through the IREMA project. The delegation that is led by Parliamentarian, Nono Katjingisiua also includes fellow lawmakers, Modestus Amutse, Apius !Auchab and Kazeongere Tjeundo.