In the dusty hot winds of northern Namibia, over two hundred children sit patiently under a tree outside a Red Cross office, sharing the little shade it offers. Some have walked for five kilometres, hungry and clutching empty bowls.
Namibia is facing the worst drought in 30 years, crops have failed and livestock is dying. In the worst hit northern region of Kunene, where the children wait under the tree, it hasn’t rained in two years. Thirty per cent of families affected by drought have enough food for only one meal a day and 109 000 children under five years old are at risk of severe malnutrition. The children under the tree are here because they don’t even have one meal a day at home.
In a makeshift kitchen, Namibia Red Cross (NRCS) volunteers have been busy preparing maize meal porridge and chicken stew for lunch. The volunteers say the difference the meals have already made is noticeable. When they started the kitchen, some children were so weak from hunger, they had to be carried in and fed. But now, when lunch is ready, the children can walk in on their own.
The volunteers help the children wash their hands – this in itself such a foreign act for people with so little access to water that most have not washed in months. With clean hands, the children quietly sit and eat, older children helping younger ones, before walking the long journey back home.
These kitchens are part of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and NRCS emergency response to the drought. In Kunene alone, the Red Cross is providing 4 000 meals a week to those who need it most.
With the next harvest not until next year, the situation for people affected by the drought is expected to worsen and demand for meals will only increase. People are already living from meal to meal and have no means to secure food. Harvest from their crops and gardens which is usually enough to last the year and supplement their income, has already, or is about to, run out. Without humanitarian assistance people have no access to food.
The European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has provided €300 000 through the IFRC to help the Namibia Red Cross Society to feed the most vulnerable, namely children in the most affected regions of the country.
By Hanna Butler
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)