The Caprivi Region’s Cycle of Poverty

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Although the Caprivi Region is blessed with the highest rainfall and the potential to become Namibia’s breadbasket, it still ranks among the poorest regions in the country. Previously, a number of agricultural projects were mooted but appear to have come to nothing as these highly ambitious green schemes have yet to be realised. What is more worrying is that the region has the highest HIV infection rate in the country at 40 percent, while its life expectancy is low, ultimately worsening the chronic poverty situation afflicting the region that is rich with perennial water sources. This means more than four in 10 people are HIV positive, while 40 percent of the region’s households are poor, compared to the country’s average of 29,1 percent. As documented in the latest Caprivi Regional Poverty Profile, residents fear they are falling deeper into poverty and into a state of vulnerability due to the effect of the HIV/Aids pandemic. “If the father should contract HIV/Aids and die, it is like cutting the trunk of a tree. All the branches will also die,” was a quote from one villager resident at Omega Three. The threat the virus poses is clearly seen in the average life expectancy of 40 years for over 50 percent of the region’s population. Health conditions are also a worry for the communities in Caprivi, as statistics show that sanitation levels are poor, indicating that 83 percent of inhabitants do not have access to toilet facilities. The HIV virus causes other problems in rural communities. For example, the more infections in an area, the more dependency on other households to care for orphans and vulnerable children left in the wake of the pandemic. Also contributing to factors of high levels of poverty is sexual promiscuity leading to HIV infection. This can be attributed to the geographic location of the region that borders Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. This has led to a higher demand for commercial sex-workers from the upsurge in the cross-border traffic. One woman said, “Sex doesn’t hurt, so why should we not do it if we can get some money from it? There is nothing wrong with that.” Another social factor adding to poverty in the region is that of witchcraft. If someone is jealous of another, s/he may use witchcraft to remedy the situation and this is believed to cause poverty. The poverty profile showed that there is a perception in the region that “people inherit poverty”. So if a household is poor, then it is because their parents were poor with no inheritance and no skills to help their children move out of poverty. This cycle is continued and made worse by lack of education amongst the parents of such households, who will not value education and therefore not put their children in school. Even if they wanted to, they do not afford the school fees. The children will therefore not be able to find employment and advance in life. Choto has seen a different type of this “inheritance of poverty”. Residents remain poor because they do not have access to capital to start even a small vending business. With unemployment, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the main source of employment opportunities next to agricultural activities. But because a poor person in Choto does not have adequate shelter, lacks basic amenities and is unable to access loans or financial resources, self-employment is not a realistic possibility. With an agriculture-based economy in the rural villages in Caprivi, livelihoods are under consistent threat from drought, floods and animal disease. And even with the highest rainfall in the country, the variability is also high and patterns are changing. The risk of falling deeper into poverty is increased by such natural disasters because of the loss of productive assets such as oxen or ploughs. The region also has fewer mechanically extracted rural water points than most other regions in the country. Other environmental factors contributing to poverty include the destruction of crops by wild animals, mainly elephants, as well as the threat of predators killing livestock in the areas close to game parks. Grazing land is often lost to uncontrolled veldt and forest fires, which is a common occurrence as the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has identified Caprivi as one of the regions worst affected by wild fires in Namibia. Launching the Caprivi Regional Poverty Profile recently, Deputy Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development Kazenambo Kazenambo reiterated that, “The scourge of HIV/Aids epidemic is aggravating the already daunting poverty situation in Caprivi Region.” He said the fight against poverty can only be won through a change to a positive mindset by all regional planners who should focus on the demands of the people on the ground.