Drought: Sadc ÔÇÿmisleadsÔÇÖ Namibia on weather forecast

Namibia could have been better prepared to tackle the current drought, which has affected close to 40% of the population, had the Sadc weather forecasters given correct rainfall predictions.
Between April and June last year, the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) Regional Climate Outlook Forum’s Climate Service Centre predicted normal to above-normal rainfall from October to December 2012. This was in contrast to the Namibia’s Meteorological Services (NMS)’s cautions early in February the same year that there would rainfall deficits from last November to March this year, which turned out to be the case.
This has been revealed by deputy director of the Emergency Management Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Helena Likando.
Namibia faces its worst drought in two decades and Likando says a total of 463 581 people still need relief aid, despite recent Government efforts.
“A total of 778 504 people are both food insecure and moderately food insecure. From that figure, 463 581 people are food insecure while 330 927 are moderately food insecure,” she says.
Despite early warning signs of the drought, which started especially in the north-western parts of the Kunene Region in mid-2011, Government reserved its urgency to tackle the phenomenon, relying on regional forecasters who predicted there would be rainfall.
Although the Sadc regional climate outlook forum had predicted normal to above-normal rainfall for the period between October and December 2012 and a similar prediction for January to March this year for most of Namibia, Likando says the NMS had already reported rainfall deficits in most areas last November and between February and March this year.
Government had been informed of these unfavorable climatic conditions late, hence its decision to initiate an interim drought relief programme in March this year and subsequently directing that an emergency food security assessment be conducted the same month. As such, Government made the necessary preparations under the uncertainties of climatic conditions that prevailed, Likando adds.
But that too was late for regions, such as Kunene, Omaheke and the crop producing regions in the north whose communities were already on their knees as the drought had hit them. Most farmers at that point had already lost their livestock while some had little water to sustain them. They (the farmers) were literally begging for Government’s intervention at that point.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba only declared the drought a national emergency on 17th May this year, after the drought had already swept through some of the regions, with livestock and families battling to cope.
“The number of people assisted from March to this month is varied. The interim measure meant to be a blanket food assistance programme assisted 520 000 people a month between March and June this year. The current drought relief is targeted, using the figures provided through the Inter-agency Emergency Food Security Assessment. The current intervention targeted 330 581 last month. The number has, however, been reviewed upward to 463 581 for this month. Government will continue to review the numbers of food insecure people as the drought situation unfolds. It is important to note that emergency food assistance is provided on the basis of need so that the most vulnerable benefit,” Likando says.
At least 6000 livestock have died of which 4000 are cattle. Government says the livestock market incentives and subsidies for the transportation of animals to areas with grazing land have helped cut the amount of livestock death.
Likando furthers: “Due to cultural reasons, some farmers are reportedly holding on to their livestock despite the availability of a scheme to assist them to reduce livestock losses. A number of farmers have, however, heeded Government’s call to reduce the number of livestock. Although the numbers are still being processed, there are indications that nearly 1000 farmers had sold approximately 100 000 livestock by last month. All the regions have since identified the areas where boreholes exist so they can be drilled to supply water for human and livestock consumption. There is, however, a need to prioritise the drilling process to meet competing demands.”
Government has already distributed at least 55 000 metric tonnes of maize meal, which is still not enough. Therefore, it has engaged international donors to meet the shortfall.
Eight children have since died in Opuwo due to malnutrition and this has largely been due to the lack of food aid assistance. There could be more in the regions.
Crop growing regions, such as Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Kavango and Zambezi have suffered serious crop losses due to the drought, although impact on livestock has been reported not to be as severe.
Omaheke, Otjozondjupa, Erongo, Hardap and Karas regions, which are predominantly livestock farming areas, experience difficulty in accessing water for their livestock.
“Unlike the previous years when some regions would experience rainfall deficits, the 2012/13 season has experienced the situation in all the 13 regions with, Kunene suffering its second consecutive year of drought while the southern regions experience higher deficits than the rest of the country. The current drought situation has thus forced Government to provide assistance to higher numbers of drought-affected areas throughout the country. The extent of the drought situation has also brought challenges to ensure effective and timely distribution of emergency assistance to a wider geographic area as compared to other years when less than three regions would be affected.”     
All the regions have been affected, though at varying degrees, due to the ecological systems. Kunene Region remains the worst affected, especially in terms of livestock and livelihood losses that have succumbed to the region’s two consecutive droughts.
The situation is expected to continue until next March when Namibia expects decent rainfall. However, Likando says Government admits the grave risk ‘of protracted drought in the event the 2013/14 agricultural season also experiences rainfall deficits.’  
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