By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare and the United Nations World Food Programme yesterday signed a letter of understanding signalling the start of a two-year food assistance programme that will benefit orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in the most affected regions of the country. In three regions, namely Omusati, Oshana and Oshi-koto, which are part of the six regions in which the 111 000 OVC will receive the food assistance, one in every 10 children relies on one parent. The government made this second appeal for food assistance to the UNWFP in 2003. The ministry will coordinate the distribution of food to the Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana, Kavango and Caprivi regions until the end of the 2007/8 financial year, when the ministry is able to phase as many orphans as possible into the Grant Payment System. As at the end of March 45 340 children were registered to receive the welfare grants. Two years ago, the figure stood at 7 000 children With the launch of the programme yesterday, Namibia has been integrated into the WFP’s regional operations for Southern Africa, which provide food assistance to populations vulnerable to food insecurity and the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Although Namibia has good infrastructure that ensures good food delivery to the supermarkets, the increasing commodity prices have left people unable to buy foodstuffs, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Marlene Mungunda said. Burdened by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which remains a national challenge, most families are unable to cope because of the crumbling support systems. She said most Namibians were poor and vulnerable and were affected mostly by food insecurity. The country has a soaring number of orphans and vulnerable children, who among other things need food, fees to go to school, emotional and psychosocial support. As a way of alleviating one of the triple threats, the UNWFP has provided over N$94 million for the provision of food assistance to the OVC in the country’s six regions. Mungunda urged all concerned to ensure that the food reaches the children timeously, saying they should not fail the children as doing so would be failing the nation. “When we save the children, we save our future,” she added. John Prout, WFP Country Director said since there is now a growing recognition that women and children bear the brunt of the pandemic, a strong basis exists for a well targeted food aid intervention to provide some relief to the growing numbers of OVC, who live under the punishing effects of long term hunger. The WFP re-established a country office in Namibia last year to strengthen support to OVC through designing an intervention that will help alleviate the chronic hunger and under nutrition that many OVC are confronted with. Statistics indicate that 24 percent of children under five are chronically malnourished, while some 9 percent are acutely malnourished. “Such levels of under nutrition are still completely unacceptable and highlight the continuing inequalities between the haves and have-nots,” Prout said. He said although there is a tendency to associate hunger with crises such as natural disasters and conflict, 90 percent of deaths are related to hunger and malnutrition among the chronically hungry than the victims of emergencies.
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