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Assessment of OVC interventions with a food component in Namibia

Rene Verduijn

November 2004

Posted with permission of the author. Comments on the paper can be sent to: verduijn@telkomsa.net
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Executive Summary

In response to the Government of the Republic of Namibia (GRN) drought appeal in November 2003, WFP approved a 6-months emergency operations targeting 111,000 orphans and vulnerable children (96,940 OVC and 14,060 malnourished children through health clinics) in six of the most affected northern regions of the country. Originally, the WFP support was scheduled to start in March 04 and end by August 04, but due to delays in implementation, the operations started in July and will be terminated by December 2004, although and extension till March 2005 seems likely. Of the 6 regions originally selected, Caprivi, Kavango, Oshikoto and Ohangwena regions are served to date.

This report is expected to help WFP in taking a decision whether to continue its support to OVC, one of Namibia’s most vulnerable population groups, starting with an assessment if food gaps are currently being addressed appropriately by government and/or its partners.

This consultancy was requested in light of the new WFP Regional Appeal for Southern Africa, a socalled “Protracted Relief and Recovery Operations” or PRRO that has recently been approved by the WFP Executive Board and will start from early 2005 for a period of three years. The PRRO is a followup to the Regional “Emergency Operation” (EMOP) for Southern Africa that has run from 2002-4 and is specifically designed to tackle the so-called “triple threat” of food insecurity, weakened capacity for governance and HIV/AIDS in the most affected countries (Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe), with chronic poverty as an internal driver of peoples’ vulnerability. The consultancy should provide some well-informed recommendations if it is required to include a small appeal for Namibia in the Regional PRRO.

Namibia is classified as a lower middle-income country with an estimated GDP of US$4.7 billion for 2003 and a Gross National Income of US$1,870 per capita. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why this assumption would seem unjustified for a majority of the Namibians, which I list below:

  • The majority of the people (more than 1 million), live in the North on communal land, are asset poor, depend on subsistence farming and small stock rearing and are vulnerable to natural disasters such as recurrent droughts, locusts, floods and animal diseases.


  • Namibia has also one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world (22.3 per cent of all Namibian adults were HIV-positive in 2001, with peaks of 43 per cent in the Caprivi region)


  • Already in 2001, almost 30 per cent of the households had an under-15 child orphaned by 1 or two parents in their midst.


  • It is further projected that by 2021 there will be a cumulative death total of over one-half million persons, leaving more than 200 000 AIDS orphans behind.
In response, the GRN has implemented grant-based support programmes to develop a national social safety net in support the most afflicted population groups. These include the following measures:

  • Pensions to persons over 60 years old and war veterans (MOHA)

  • Special maintenance and disability grants (MOHSS)

  • Maintenance and foster parent allowance for OVC and caregivers (MWACW)

  • Cash for Work programmes (MAWRD)
Ongoing safety net programmes with food as a component are:
  • School Feeding Programme (MBESC)

  • Food for work (MAWRD)

  • Drought relief assistance (OPM-EMU)

  • OVC supplementary feeding scheme (WFP/EMU)
The GRN has also drafted a number of new pieces of legislation to create a more conducive policy and regulatory environment to tackle the problems of HIV/AIDS, poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.

In total, the GRN is among the 8 countries in the world who spend the highest share of GDP on public expenditure in education (almost 25 per cent) and is only second to South Africa in Southern Africa in terms of per capita spending in the health sector.

This report supports the legitimacy of the claim that the GRN can request to be included under the new WFP Regional PRRO, in helping to assure Namibians’ right-to-food.

The latest estimates for number of orphans in Namibia range from 31, 000 in 1999 to over 130,000 today. In other words in 10 years time 1 out of 3 kids will have lost one or both parents. These dramatic figures reflect the enormous changes that have occurred and will further arise over time on individual households, their extended families and communities as a whole. As the extended family remains the primary caretaker of orphans, and families accept the additional “burden” of taking on board OVC to and beyond the carrying capacity of a household, family structures are breaking down due to the impact of HIV/AIDS on family life. Reliable figures about the numbers of defunct families are not available. Clearly, all members of these families are vulnerable to food insecurity.

About half of the orphans are to be found in the four central north regions of Oshikati, Omusati, Ohangwena and Oshikoto, while the rest reside in the north eastern regions of Kavango and Caprivi and Windhoek. They further emphasize that they have found evidence that orphans are moved back to the rural areas when parents die in urban environment. Therefore, the report expects that about 60 per cent of the total orphan population will end up in these four northern regions.

The report clarifies how OVC access food, through the description of predominant livelihoods and household characteristics in Namibia by region. In short, a large distinction can be made between the central north and north-east of the country and the centre and south. The northern part is predominantly communal land and hosts over two-thirds of the population largely dependent on rain-fed crop production, raising cattle and small stock. Apart from the capital Windhoek, the centre and south of the country constitute of mainly commercial export cattle and game farms, with a majority of the population involved as farm workers.

Overall, the food security situation seems to have much improved since the 2003 drought, especially for the large numbers of subsistence farmers in the northern areas, who were temporary food insecure because of the drought. As a majority of OVC are cared for by their extended families, they are likely to profit from this improved food security situation as anyone else. Due to a lack of statistical data, it is not possible to calculate or estimate the percentage of households with OVC experiencing transitory versus chronic food insecurity. The latter households would include children headed households and grandmother headed households caring for a large number of (grand)children.

The agricultural season of 2003/4 has been much more successful. NEWFIS expected that Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshikoto regions as well as commercial crop growing areas to be generally selfsufficient in basic foodstuffs and would even generate higher marketable surpluses of millet compared to the previous marketing year. Forecasts for the agricultural season 2004/5 are also looking good, as the bulk of the country can expect to receive “normal” to “above-normal” rainfall during January to March 2005.

The nutritional status among children under five years of age is low, with a quarter underweight and stunted and almost 10 per cent wasted. There are significant regional differences in the nutritional status of children. Accept for a few regions like Erongo, Karas and Otjozondjupa under-nutrition is widespread among the regions in Namibia. Kavango and Khomas have the highest rates of severely stunted children, while also the regions of Ohangwena, Omaheke, Omusati and Oshikoto have close to 30 per cent of their children moderately stunted. Moderate wasting with a prevalence rate between 10 and 15 per cent can be found in Hardap, Ohangwena, Omaheke and Ashana. The regions of Ohangwena and Kavango stand out as about 10 per cent of their children under five were severely underweight. Prevalences for moderately underweight children was again highest for these two regions, but were followed shortly by Hardap and the “four O’s” with about a quarter of children under 5 affected.

HIV/AIDS is recognized as one of the greatest threats to the well-being of children in Namibia as 22 per cent of pregnant women were HIV- positive according to the 2002 sero-sentinel survey. Regional differences are significant, as Caprivi tops the list with 43 per cent were infected with the HIV-retrovirus. The causes of Namibia’s high HIV prevalence rate are unprotected sex with an infected person, and mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

As characteristics of HIV/AIDS infected/ affected households are well documented in Namibia and the Southern Africa region, it is important to reflect on the duress of chronic illness and death on the households and its individuals. Here is a selection of these changes due to HIV/AIDS, which were also emphasized during interviews in the field:
  • Loss of labour due to illness and death, increased caring for household members and attending funerals.

  • Loss of labour leads to loss of agriculture production, other income generating activities and social activities.

  • Money used to be spent on hiring agricultural labour, seeds, tools and implements is now used for funerals costs, including buying of coffins, etc.

  • Increased requirements for spending on healthcare.

  • Household assets decrease due to slaughtering of livestock for funerals.

  • Money runs out and children can’t pay school fee or contribution to the school development fund.

  • When a parent dies (father) in some areas, it is not uncommon that family members claim valuable assets like agricultural implements and leave the bereaved grandmother and/or children left behind with almost nothing. This phenomenon is also known as “property grabbing.”
The impact of HIV/AIDS on PLWHA and their households have lead to a change in household composition. OVC can therefore be found in the following household categories, where the latter ones would be considered as the most vulnerable:
  • Family nucleus intact, one parent is left (often female-headed).

  • Family nucleus destroyed, OVC taken in by extended family, around new nucleus.

  • OVC in orphanages/ safe homes, a minor but growing phenomenon.

  • Grand mother headed households, no middle-generation present (migrated - access to remittances or dead).

  • Children headed households, only children present, oldest/ strongest takes responsibility for all.

  • Roaming OVCs from dissolved households, rotate between different households and scramble for a living.
Street children one finds in places as Rundu and Windhoek are not a separate category as the vast majority have a home to return to in the evenings. Life on the streets is a real coping strategy as money can be made through begging. Some OVC are taking to the streets as parental care and supervision is missing, partly because it is far more exiting to spend time in town than be in the village, but it was also reported that others are sent by family members to beg from passing tourists to help support their family.

Households are vulnerable to food insecurity if they depend on a single source of income or food for their consumption. Diversification of household income to reduce vulnerability to food insecurity is necessarily sought after and achieved by measures taken by individual household members and through government support. One of the main strategies by households to reduce vulnerability to food insecurity is to split households, where grandparents and grandchildren remain in rural areas whereas adults move to town in search of work. This strategy enables the household to retain a rural base, while also minimizing the higher costs associated with living in an urban centre. The household now depends on two sources of income, farming and remittances, if employment can be found. The government has made this strategy possible as it provides pensions to the over- 60 years, so the remaining family has at least a basic monthly income. Although vulnerability is reduced by this strategy, as income is stabilized there are also a number of disadvantages, such as lost labour, dislocated households, which in turn contribute to the spread of STDs, including HIV/AIDS.

In short the following “non-erosive” coping strategies for (OVC) households are used:
  • Split households to diversify income and reduce risk

  • Casual agricultural labour by OVC.

  • Collection of wild fruits

  • Hunting (Caprivi)

  • Collecting and selling firewood

  • Odd jobs

  • Selling of limited number of cattle and small stock

  • Selling of non-essential assets
More damaging or “erosive” survival mechanisms that people rely on include a number of activities such as:
  • Selling of productive assets (agricultural implements)

  • Selling of large number of cattle and small stock

  • Begging by orphans themselves

  • Alcohol abuse

  • Prostitution

  • Crime



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