Thousands go hungry

The continuing drought has claimed its first victims in northern Namibia, with the youngest and the oldest being the most vulnerable.

12 November 2019 | Disasters

ILENI NANDJATO



Following the deaths of three children from malnutrition at Amarika in the Omusati Region during the past three months, an investigation by Namibian Sun has found that 1 565 children are malnourished in the region alone.

The deaths of three elderly people in the region are also suspected to be due to malnutrition.

Thousands of households in the region either do not have enough food, or their diets are not nutritious enough.

A report compiled by the office of the regional health director between January and September this year shows that 397 children in the region are classified as stunted, 360 are suffering from wasting and 808 others are underweight.

The report, made available to Namibian Sun upon request, was not presented during the World Food Day event held in the region last month.

According to regional governor Erginus Endjala, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila had a meeting with the health directorate last week, but the report was not presented to her either.

Because of the drought, many households in the region depend on food aid distributed by the regional council, but they claim that the food is not enough.

Many cases of malnutrition have been reported at all four district hospitals in the region, namely Okahao, Tsandi, Outapi and Oshikuku.

Oshikuku reported the highest number of cases at 796, followed by Okahao with 285, Outapi with 258 and Tsandi 226.

Oshikuku recorded 217 cases of stunting, 429 cases of underweight and 150 cases of wasting.

Okahao reported 79 cases of stunting, 140 of underweight and 66 cases of wasting.

Outapi recorded 38 cases of stunting, 133 of underweight and 87 of wasting.

Tsandi recorded 63 cases of stunting, 106 cases of underweight and 57 cases of wasting.

Three pensioners are also believed to have died of malnutrition: a 67-year-old at Okahao and two 87-year-olds at Outapi, while two others were treated and discharged from hospital.

The director of health in the region, Alfons Amoomo, says the main roles of the ministry of health in the fight against malnutrition are to promote a balanced diet composed of locally available food, to assess the nutrition status and growth of children under five years, to provide counselling on infant and young child feeding, to distribute therapeutic supplements to malnourished children, and to refer them to other stakeholders such as regional councillors for food handouts.

“Mothers, fathers and caretakers are urged to take children to the nearest health facilities for growth monitoring and when they are sick. Hygiene, both personal and environmental, must be practised all the time to avoid worm infestation and other possible infections that might worsen the malnutrition status of family members,” Amoomo says.

“We always urge the affected households to be reported to traditional leaders such as village headmen and councillors for possible drought relief assistance.”

Endjala said he was only aware of the three children who had died at Amarika and the rest of the information was news to him.

“Last week Thursday we had a meeting with the prime minister. Our regional health officials were also present. They gave a report, but they only reported on the three children that died of malnutrition at Amarika. I do not understand why they did not give the full report as you are saying it,” Endjala said.

“The region is currently distributing drought relief food to all the registered beneficiaries. The programme is going well, but we are faced with a challenge of transportation of mahangu from the Okongo AMTA silos.”

Uveninawa Petrus (64) from Amarika village says she has a family of seven who rely on food aid, but it is not enough.

“With the school-going children we have to make sure that they go to school every day so that they can eat from the school feeding programme, it is really helpful.

“The social grant for children and my pension money all have to be spent on a 50 kg bag of maize meal and transportation from Okahao every month,” Petrus says.

“The food relief aid is not sufficient at all. We get a 20 kg bag of mahangu, canned fish and bottles of cooking oil once in three months. How do you expect people to survive on this for all those days?”

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