Rosemary Nalisa, Namibia Red Cross Society
Anna-Maria Pales’ situation is one of heartache and vulnerability. The 45-year-old mother of three depends entirely on the one meal provided each day by the Namibia Red Cross Society’s soup kitchen to feed herself and her three children. Her nine-year-old son Manuel, who suffers from a disability, and his nine-month-old sister are both severely malnourished.
Sometimes, neighbours will also lend a helping hand. Tonight for example, for their evening meal, Anna-Maria and her children will prepare dinner from two potatoes and chicken feet boiled in salt water. “We got this from one of our neighbours, but on many days we sleep with hunger and the children are crying the whole day and part of the night,” says Anna-Maria.
“The soup kitchen came at the right time and saved my children from starvation. As you can see, this is currently my only reliable source of food for me and my children. But it won’t be here forever. I fear for our lives when this service is discontinued in a few months’ time,” says Anna-Maria.
Namibia is currently experiencing chronic food insecurity as a result of drought due to abnormally low rainfall between October 2014 and February 2015, the active rainfall period for commonly grown crops. Assessments indicate it is the worst crop performance in 80 years with cereal output in 2015 declining 43 per cent from the year before. An estimated 578,480 people have been affected with at least 16 per cent of the population in need of urgent food support, now and through the next harvest in April.
The long walk for food
For the last three months, over 300 people, mainly women and children, have been walking long distances every day to reach the Namibia Red Cross Society soup kitchen in Opuwo, Kunene district. Most fled their villages after losing their cattle and crops to the drought which is currently gripping large parts of the country. They are now squatting with family members in Opuwo.
“I have temporarily relocated to Opuwo as life in the village is really tough,” says Inaakaupange Ngoho, who walks more than five kilometres to the soup kitchen every day to receive her meal.
“There is literally nothing in the village and most people are struggling to make ends meet. We have lost our cattle and all our means of livelihood. At least here we survive from handouts from good samaritans at the shopping malls. We are also so grateful for the food assistance we are receiving from the Namibia Red Cross. It is much appreciated,” adds Ngoho.
The Red Cross branch officer for the Kunene region is worried as the number of people using the soup kitchen continued to grow in December. Kakarandua Mutambo attributes this to the worsening drought situation and the closing of schools for the Christmas break. “Most of the school children are beneficiaries of a school feeding programme. When schools closed for the Christmas break, families began flocking here. They would sometimes sit and wait until all the registered beneficiaries received their food and then took what was left.”
Mutambo is concerned that if more soup kitchens are not established, the only existing facility will soon be overwhelmed. “The situation is so bad and worsening. Even if the rain comes, it will take time for these people to be able to replenish their stock and plough their fields. We are talking about five to six months. It is really a worrying situation,” says Mutambo. There have been some recent rains, however, not enough to have any real impact.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an Emergency Appeal for 950,205 Swiss francs to support the Namibia Red Cross Society in its efforts to assist those left hungry by the drought. To date, the appeal is only 9 per cent funded.