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Two Years of Drought Cripple Namibian Desert

Jerome Delay
Published: August 12, 2013

In this photo taken Monday, July 29, 2013. and supplied by UNICEF, health worker Julita Hamukuaja, does various checks for malnutrition on a mother and her five-year-old child in the Okangwati village, Kunene Province, northern Nambia. (AP Photo/Jordi Matas-UNICEF)

ORUPEMBE, Namibia  -- The police are about the only people left in this village of 400 in the Namibian desert because the infrequent rains have ceased due to a drought, forcing residents to seek precious water and grazing ground elsewhere for their livestock.

"They left for the other side of the mountain, looking for water for the cows," said Chief of Police Olani Imanul, whose roughly 20 officers feel a tad useless with just about everyone gone. "It has not rained for over two years here."

(More:  Orupembe, Namibia Forecast)

Summer rains usually flood the plains and rejuvenate the flora, but they did not come. Now, in the Southern Hemisphere winter, it is especially dry.

UNICEF said the drought in this arid corner of southwest Africa is said to be the worst in three decades and that families are selling assets such as livestock, have less to eat and are migrating to cities to find work.

"An estimated 778,000 Namibians, a third of the population, are either severely or moderately food insecure," UNICEF said in an online report on Wednesday.

One of those affected is Jormany Mupetami, who sells semi-precious stones outside the village of Uis to tourists. His dreadlocks and his smile make the visitors at ease. Yet, even after making a sale for US$50 he whispers, almost embarrassed: "Would you have some canned food you could give us for the children?"

"It has now been established that climate change is here to stay and humanity must find ways and means of mitigating its effect," Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba said in May as he declared a state of emergency as a result of the drought. He said crop production in some areas was expected to decrease by about 50 percent below average because of the lack of rain.

At the Van Zyl pass community camp, skinny cows fight with birds for water at the camp's faucet. The Ombuku river is dry and has been for the past two years.

Outside Purros, a hamlet graced by giant sand dunes in the midst of a mountainous Martian landscape, a river has been reduced to a narrow stream. Desert elephants, oryx, baboons and springbok gather around a few puddles of water along with skinny livestock, seeking relief in the heat of the day.

The Namibian government in May committed about US$20.7 million to provide food and water to affected people and called on the international community to assist, UNICEF said.

MORE:  Changing Attitudes on Global Warming


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