©IFRC/HannaButler - Children wait outside a  Namibia Red Cross soup kitchen

©IFRC/HannaButler – Children wait outside a Namibia Red Cross soup kitchen

Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa and is increasingly suffering from droughts. 

The north of the country is home to a number of disparate tribal groups. Some depend on crops for their livelihoods, others on cattle farming. 

The Red Cross is working with these communities to help prepare them for natural disasters by providing them with relevant training and cash grants while they recover from the effects of drought. 

National state of emergency

In a country where 70 per cent of the population works in agriculture, drought affects hundreds of thousands of people and has far-reaching consequences.

Crops suffer, pasture for livestock becomes more scarce and boreholes dry up, meaning farmers have to travel greater distances to find grazing land for their animals. Families also resort to drinking dirty water.

©BritishRedCross/KennyHamilton

©BritishRedCross/KennyHamilton

Following two years of below average and erratic rainfall, the Namibian Government declared a national state of emergency in May last year. 

More than 330,000 people were deemed to be at risk of not getting enough food. That’s 14 per cent of the country’s population.  

Climate change

Working with the Namibia Red Cross Society, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) responded to the emergency in four of the worst affected regions in the north of the country – Kavango, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Kunene. 

The immediate need was to get food, clean water and sanitation facilities – such as water tanks, jerry cans and purification tablets – to people affected. Water points, such as boreholes, were also repaired.

But the southern African country is regularly hit by natural disasters and is increasingly feeling the effects of climate change, so merely responding to a crisis is not enough.

There is a commonly-held notion of aid agencies that respond to disasters, but don’t prepare for them. This is far from the truth.

Much of the Red Cross work in Namibia is focused on supporting communities to take responsibility for their own futures. We’re helping them to prepare for climate change and natural disasters.

©BritishRedCross/KennyHamilton

©BritishRedCross/KennyHamilton

“A lack of food was the biggest problem in Namibia, which is why feeding centres were set up to address that immediate acute need,” said Kenny Hamilton, a British Red Cross delegate recently returned from Namibia with the IFRC.

“But the impact of climate change is very real there and communities have to continually respond to changes in the environment. Droughts are more common and then droughts can be followed by floods.

“There’s greater pressure on land resources so we have to make sure that communities have better access to water, improved farming or agricultural techniques, and an increased understanding of the effects of climate change and how to meet the challenges that lie ahead.  

“The people who are worst affected are often the poorest elements of society. They have to deal with a range of threats so we want to make them more resilient.”

Cash grants and training  

There are a number of tribal communities in northern Namibia, some of whom farm crops, while others keep cattle. The Red Cross is working with these communities according to their traditional ways of living. 

Training is being provided to pastoral communities to help them manage cattle in a way that is more sustainable, while seeds and tools are distributed to farmers trained in sustainable agriculture. 

©IFRC/HannaButler - A Himba man waits at food distribution point in Kunene

©IFRC/HannaButler – A Himba man waits at food distribution point in Kunene

Cash grants are also given to tribal communities. Households are given grants to enable them to buy breeding livestock or seeds, depending on the tribe.

The cash grants mean people don’t have to sell or slaughter their livestock for food and can instead use the money as they choose.  

“Cash grants have been extremely effective in supporting the most vulnerable communities in the north,” said Kenny.

“Cash grants let families use the humanitarian assistance they receive in a way that allows them to meet their own specific needs.

“In Namibia, where pastoralists live alongside agricultural communities, it was important to use cash to provide this flexibility to ensure no community was disadvantaged.

“We saw evidence that cash grants also helped to support local businesses, which in turn increased the amount and type of resources being brought into the community, strengthening the local economy.

“We hope this will continue well beyond the crisis period.” 

  • Read more about Red Cross work in Africa.