04.11.2016

Namibia copes with drought


Extremely dry conditions in most parts on Namibia.

In search of food - an oryx at Namib Desert Lodge.

The El Niño phenomenon

Namibia has been hit hard by severe droughts over the last three years. Crop harvests have reduced as a result, cattle and other livestock died. Even wild animals compete for dwindling water resources and grazing. There is good news however - the latest weather forecasts at the end of October point to a higher likelihood of normal rainfalls during the October 2016 to April 2017 season, according to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation).

Central Namibia and the capital Windhoek are also affected. While some rainfall was received, the rivers in and around Windhoek hardly flowed and the dams have not received inflow. The three dams providing Windhoek with water are Von Bach Dam, the Otjivero Dam and the Swakoppoort Dam. The Swakoppoort Dam also provides water for Karibib and the nearby Navachab gold mine. These dams are almost empty. Windhoek residents and businesses need to save water, some 27% was achieved by 24 October, however the target is 40% of consumption. A few rain showers were enjoyed in the last days of October.

Rural farmers are often reluctant to sell more cattle, sheep and goats to abattoirs when droughts loom and thus suffer consequences: many of their animals die from thirst and due to the lack of grazing. “The best is to sell and keep a core herd and then restock the herd during good rainy seasons,” the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) advises. 

El Niño and La Niña


The El Niño phenomenon is characterised by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial areas of the Pacific Ocean, as opposed to La Niña with unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. El Niño is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific. It has important consequences for global weather. Some areas receive more rain, where others receive none at all, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The 1997/98 El Niño caused record global temperatures alongside droughts, floods and forest fires. The current El Niño has already affected millions of people. 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years on record, with the Pacific Ocean already warming up to an unprecedented degree according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The current El Niño event is one of the three strongest since 1950.  

The name El Niño comes from fishermen off the coast of South America as the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño means ‘The Little Boy’ or ‘Christ child’ in Spanish. This name was used for the tendency of the phenomenon to arrive around Christmas. 

Government response


In June this year Namibian President Hage Geingob officially declared a State of National Emergency due to the drought situation in the country, which affects some 730,000 people, mainly in rural areas. Two months earlier, on 24 April, the government already set aside N$650 million for drought aid and rolled out a support programme.

The government provides monthly food rations, mainly maize meal, to those affected through its Directorate of Disaster Risk Management. Water is supplied to those remote villages, where traditional wells have dried up. Additional boreholes are drilled to provide water for humans and livestock as well as wildlife, particularly in the Zambezi Region. Among others, communal (subsistence) farmers receive free seeds for the upcoming planting season.

Communal and emerging farmers, as well as resettled and commercial farmers, can apply for monthly fodder subsidies of N$60 per large livestock and N$10 monthly for small livestock like sheep and goats. Farmers transporting their livestock to emergency grazing areas can also apply for up to 50% refund for transport costs and lease tariffs per animal for a maximum of 100 cattle and 600 small livestock. 

“The drought in Namibia has affected a total number of 729,314 Namibians, 595,839 of those affected live in the rural areas and are in need of direct food assistance,” Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila told a visiting African Union (AU) delegation on 27 October. 

In addition, the government wants to build a desalination plant at the coast north of Swakopmund by 2019 to supply the Erongo Region with water and to reduce the current pressure on the region’s groundwater. A 20-million cubic-metre privately owned desalination plant currently supplies the nearby mining industry with water.

Wildlife

The wildlife has not been forgotten. When government media reported on the plight of about 100 hippos stranded in a drying water arm of a river in the Zambezi Region a few weeks ago, local drilling expert Frank Bockmühl was contracted to drill for water at two hippo pools. The two pools receive pumped water for 8 hours a day, to prevent the pools from drying up completely. The national broadcaster NBC reported at the end of October that elephants, hundreds of zebra and antelopes as well as buffalo now frequent these two pools. 

Regional response

Apart from Namibia, the governments of Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have declared national emergencies due to drought this year, as have eight of nine provinces in South Africa. Mozambique activated a Red Alert to mobilise resources and speed up the drought response. Madagascar has called for international assistance.

The 15 member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have jointly declared a regional disaster in July this year and launched an appeal amounting to US$2.4 billion to support the humanitarian needs and disaster response recovery of millions of people affected by the drought. Namibia is a member of SADC. 

"The 2016 regional food security and vulnerability assessments indicate that the number of food insecure people in the Region is about 40 million, which is about 14% of SADC's total population", SADC chairperson, President Ian Khama of Botswana said. Since July, the USA pledged US$300 million, while the United Kingdom pledged £72 million and the European Union €60 million towards humanitarian assistance. 

Solutions are possible 


Quite appropriately, the first “Africa Drought Conference” was held in Namibia in August 2016. The conference adopted the “Windhoek Declaration for Enhancing Resilience to Drought in Africa”. It also committed to implement a “Strategic Framework for Drought Risk Management and Enhancing Resilience in Africa”. 

“This framework is the first of its kind on any continent”, said Namibia’s Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta at the concluding press conference.

The declaration also requests the African Union Commission (AUC) (with support from the Namibian government) to ensure that the Strategic Framework be adopted by its relevant bodies and endorsed at the next African Union Summit early 2017. The declaration also committed to establishing a continental African network with national institutions for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning Systems.

Brigitte Weidlich


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