Worry over recurring drought

Speaking in China at COP 13, environment minister Pohamba Shifeta has urged for more drought mitigation efforts.

14 September 2017 | Environment

The 13th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification will this week decide whether the Windhoek Declaration for Enhancing Resilience to Drought can be put into motion.

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta, who was speaking at the conference held in Ordos, China, said Namibia had in the past been disappointed with the lack of focus of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on drought mitigation.

“This is one of the reasons why addressing drought mitigation as a matter of priority was incorporated.”

According to Shifeta, it is encouraging that the UNCCD has now started to assume a leading role on this matter at international level.

“I am particularly pleased to see the inclusion of a strategic objective on drought in the new draft strategic framework of the convention for the period 2018-2030. I would further like to thank the secretariat for elaborating on a dedicated drought initiative that was presented here at UNCCD COP13.”

Shifeta added that drought was a particular critical issue for Namibia and in the past few years the country had faced prolonged droughts.

According to him, Namibia experienced its worst drought in over 30 years during 2013 and had to declare a drought emergency last year. The prolonged drought left more than 25% of the population food insecure.

Shifeta said the entire SADC declared a regional drought emergency in 2016 and the World Food Programme estimated that more than 35.9 million people in the SADC region could be food insecure by March 2017. Drought events also wreaked havoc in 2016 in regions as diverse as South America and Eastern Europe as well as parts of China and South East Asia.

“We are acutely aware of the challenges these drought events brought – to name but a few— food insecurity, reduced crop yields, livestock losses, forest fires, water shortages, increased commodity prices and increasing dust and sandstorms. These are severe challenges for any country to manage,” the minister said. Shifeta further said that Namibia in partnership with the UNCCD this year implemented a pilot project to strengthen its drought preparedness systems.

According to him, the country has reviewed its existing Early Warning Systems and is in the process of integrating different elements so that information on the following issues is incorporated into one system.

These will include meteorological information, agricultural information, including crop and livestock production estimates price trends of food and fodder, availability of water, and household vulnerability information.

Shifeta also elaborated on the first African Drought Conference that took place in August last year and was hosted by Namibia in partnership with the African Union and the UNCCD.

According to Shifeta, the conference resulted in two major outputs, namely the adoption of the Strategic Framework for Drought Risk Management and Enhancing Resilience in Africa, which proposes for a Drought Resilient and Prepared Africa (DRAPA), and the Windhoek Declaration for Enhancing Resilience to Drought.

It is expected that the strategic framework will guide African countries to develop and implement national and sub-regional drought policies that will make them more prepared and resilient to drought events. The strategic framework contains a drought policy and governance for drought risk management, drought monitoring and early warning; drought vulnerability and impact assessment, drought mitigation; preparedness and response, knowledge management and drought awareness and also focuses on reducing underlying factors for drought and crosscutting issues.

Shifeta said these different pillars brought into focus the very broad nature of interventions that were necessary to increase resilience to drought events.

“I believe the UNCCD can and should play a substantive supporting role to each of these pillar areas. It is clear that most countries have a long way to go in getting to a state of being resilient to drought.”

The Windhoek Declaration further highlights the need for countries to develop a binding protocol on drought risk management under the framework of the UNCCD to mobilise further commitment and support to drought resilience.

“In my view, this protocol is necessary to guide a focused programme of work on enhancing drought resilience and I would like to call for a decision at this Conference of the Parties to set this process in motion,” said Shifeta.

The declaration states the commitments to implement the Strategic Framework for Drought Risk Management and Enhancing Resilience in Africa; to establish a continent-wide African network with national institutions for drought monitoring and early warning systems adopted in Windhoek last year.

ELLANIE SMIT

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