By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Over 110 000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) from the northern and northeastern regions will be beneficiaries of a food assistance pro-gramme as from next week. The programme will benefit 111 000 children from six regions, namely, Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Osha-na, Kavango and Caprivi, which have been identified as the hardest hit because they have the highest prevalence rates and as a result a high number of OVC. The N$90 million pro-gramme is based on the chronic under-nutrition situation in the country where 24 percent of children under the age of five are chronically undernourished, while there is a general under-nutrition rate of 20 percent, according to John Prout, Country Director of the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) in Namibia. He said as the family structures weaken due to the HIV and AIDS pandemic, children were also becoming weaker and weaker. A statement issued by the WFP and the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare yesterday said the Government recognises the ongoing needs of these vulnerable children whose situation has been further exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country. The statement said Government is committed to provide them with assistance they urgently need. The UN agency’s assistance, which will provide maize-meal, corn-soya blend, vegetable oil and beans to the children in the six regions, will run for two years after which most of the children should be receiving government grants to enable them to buy basic needs and food supplies. Sirrka Ausiku, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare, said the food assistance comes at a time when the majority of OVC are struggling to survive against odds such as food insecurity and family disintegration support mechanisms. “This is really a welcomed gesture to fill the gaps as most of these OVC are waiting to be accommodated in the existing Government Safety Net Schemes of the ministry,” Ausiku said, adding that the support would ensure the wellbeing of all children. As at end of the financial year, the ministry was providing 45 340 maintenance and foster parents with grants. Prout said the pandemic is having a devastating impact on orphans and vulnerable children in Namibia and the whole of Southern Africa and the WFP would do its best to support the Government in meeting the needs of the children. The statement said the ministry and the UN agency have been working in consultation with regional councils since last year to design the intervention. WFP will work closely with the Catholic AIDS Action, Namibia Red Cross Society and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia Aids Action to ensure the children receive the food, while a component of the supplementary feeding assistance for serious malnourished children will also be supported by WFP in coordination with the Ministry of Health and Social Services. According to a publication, Namibia’s Most Vulnerable Children, in 2001, the country had 156 000 orphans under 18 years of age, a number that is projected to grow to 250 000 orphans under the age of 15 come 2021. The publication says vulnerability is so pervasive that 26 percent of children under 15 years are living without both their parents. OVC face a host of threats, which include malnutrition and starvation, extreme or relative poverty, lack of access to schools and premature death. The immediate causes of vulnerability, according to the publication, are parental mortality, parents leaving their children in the care of others, poor childcare practices and the inability of caregivers and communities to take care of children.
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