Lutherans aid Namibia, Angola as they face worst drought in 30 years

(Photo: Lutheran World Federation / Mairo Retief)A field of dead millet crop in Omusati region, northern Namibia in June 2013.

Namibia has been described as a dry piece of land between two deserts and it is sub-Saharan Africa's driest country.

The sparsely populated southwest African nation is therefore highly susceptible to lack of rain and it is facing its worst drought in 30 years along with its northern neighbour, Angola.

It has the Namib Desert on it western side and the mighty Kalahari on its east, so when there is no rain in the central plateau and in the north it suffers from drought.

Namibia President Hifkepunye Pohamba declared a national emergency after the failure of crops in May, allocating 20 million Namibian dollars (US$2 million) of relief for those worst hit.

"I urge the LWF member churches to support the people in Namibia and Angola with prayers and financial resources," Lutheran World Federation general secretary, Rev. Martin Junge, said in a July 9 letter to LWF churches.

"We often fail to see the possible extent and magnitude of threat to people's lives in slow disasters such as drought.

"And as LWF, we have taken the lessons from the past, according to which early attention and intervention in crisis situations like the current one makes a big difference," Junge stressed in his letter.

The Lutheran federation is working with the government to relieve the situation.

The LWF is supporting Namibia's Lutheran churches to help rural communities cope with the country's worst drought in 30 years.

Among these is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), a Lutheran denomination that has more than 704,000 members, mainly in Northern Namibia.

The church played a significant role in opposition to apartheid in Namibia and was part of the Namibian independence struggle against South African rule.

The Namibian government estimates that out of the more than 700,000 people affected in the population of 2.1 million, more than 42 percent of them are categorized as food insecure.

Some 330,000 people in Namibia and over 1.83 million in Angola are food insecure.

Lutheran World Information spoke to Mairo Retief, the LWF's Department of World Service regional emergency coordinator for East and Central Africa.

She noted some of the long-term implications of the food shortages, and therefore the need for holistic intervention, which includes psychosocial support.

Retied cited a group discussion with women in a church in northern Namibia, during which the women explained why alcohol is becoming an alternative in filling their hunger pangs.

"'Would you rather drink a liter of local brew which costs one Namibian dollar or buy a loaf of bread which costs 7.5 dollars to fill your hunger?

"'By drinking the alcohol it also means we have more food to feed our children,'" Retief quoted one parent as saying.

Namibia has one of the highest levels of wealth inequalities in the world.

The poverty in rural areas where 1.6 million people reside means that the already vulnerable households relying on livestock and crop production have a difficult time coping with the food and water crisis.

"The shortages of food and water are increasing the immediate threat of disease and malnutrition," Reuters news agency quoted Micaela Marques De Sousa, the Namibia representative of UNICEF, the U.N.'s children's agency as saying.

"But anecdotal reports already indicate children are dropping out of school, a clear sign of stress and vulnerability in families."

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News