Rural families bear the brunt of devastating drought in Namibia

Publicado: 21 enero 2016 9:39 CET

By Rosemary Nalisa, Namibia Red Cross Society

The stench of rotting cattle carcasses fills the air, while hides and bones litter the flat, wide open landscape and valleys. The Mbunguha family has lost close to 100 head of cattle over the past seven months. Many of the remaining cows are too weak to leave the homestead to seek grazing areas or water.

Namibia’s current drought crisis, described as the worst in 80 years and affecting more than 370,000 people, is taking its hardest toll on women and children who are often left fending for themselves. Food scarcity is evident across the country where inhabitants are mostly subsistence and pastoralist farmers, dependent on the rain for cropping and animal rearing activities. Recent rains in many parts of the country, including the Kunene region, have had little effect in improving the deteriorating conditions of pastures and crops.

Mariru Mbunguha, 61, bends slowly towards a pot, cooking on partially burning wood. The pot contains thin porridge, the only meal for the day. She is preparing it for her family of ten. “In order for us to survive we have reduced our meals to one. Sometimes only the children are able to eat, while adults go to bed hungry. We are hoping for the rains to come sooner so that we can start ploughing and the condition of our animals can improve.”

Mbunguha helps work the family farm, and receives a monthly old-age pension of about 100 US dollars, however, she has many mouths to feed which include her grandchildren and other adopted family members.

"This year is the worst."

“We are cattle farmers and in normal times we live on milk and meat from our animals to sustain ourselves and take our kids to school. Unfortunately, over the past five years, we have lost many of our animals and our livelihoods have been badly affected. This year is the worst. Our cattle are dying like flies,” says Mbunguha sadly, as she tries to revive the fire which is almost dying.

The water situation is so dire that many communities share the same water sources, mostly springs, with their animals. There is a constant health risk from drinking contaminated water.

The drought has also resulted in conflict over grazing areas among local communities, with several altercations having to be resolved through the tribal courts. The Mbunguha family notes that they are sometimes forced to move up to 70 kilometres in search of better grazing land and water, a situation that does not sit well with other families already settled in these areas.

The Namibia Red Cross Society is running a soup kitchen in Kunene to provide support to the most vulnerable people. Unfortunately, Mbunguha lives too far away, over 100 kilometres, to access the service. 

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 help people negatively affected by the drought. To date, the appeal is only 9 per cent funded. Without immediate funding, families like the Mbunguha’s will continue to live on one meal a day, their health, and ultimately their lives, at great risk.