By Surihe Gaomas
With a current population of over 202 000 the Kavango Region, situated in the north-eastern part of the country, is the fourth poorest region in Namibia.
It is best known as the evergreen forest region – with the Kavango River that originates from neighbouring Angola in the north and ends off in the Okavango Delta of Botswana in the east.
Furthermore, the region has the third lowest survival rate in the country after Oshikoto and Caprivi.
According to information from the draft document on the regional poverty assessment profile on Kavango by the National Planning Commission, “almost 39 percent of the population is expected to die before reaching the age of 40”.
In total, the Kavango Region comprises nine constituencies. These are Kahenge, Kapako, Mashare, Mpungu, Mukwe, Ndyona, Rundu Rural East, Rundu Rural West and Rundu Urban. The current administrative centre is Rundu.
With a population of more than 202 000, the region comprises more than 11 percent of the total population of Namibia.
Eighty-two percent of the population is rural, resulting in a population density of 4.2 people per km2.
In 2001 household income from farming was the most important source of income for 52 percent of the population, compared to 21 percent of the population for whom wages and salaries were the most important income source.
However, although the Kavango is the fourth poorest region in the country, immense development and progress have been made to reduce poverty between the years 1997 and 2000.
Soon after independence, government embarked upon a second phase of the struggle, namely, the struggle for economic emancipation.
When visiting the region recently, President Hifikepunye Pohamba even identified some of the major development programmes aimed at enhancing sustainable economic development in order to address the problems of poverty and unemployment.
Such a struggle was also undertaken to broaden access to social amenities such as health care, education and clean drinking water for all citizens.
Thus the region was one of the 13 that benefited under government implemented capital projects of development.
“In the Kavango Region, our government has renovated and upgraded the Old Barasoni and Bagani clinics. In addition, all four main hospitals in the region, namely, Nyangana, Nankudu, Rundu and Andara have been renovated and upgraded,” explained the Head of State.
In terms of health, this means 90 percent of all health facilities in the region have been renovated. Furthermore, Pohamba added that two more mortuaries at Nyangana and Andara hospitals were constructed, while in the same constituency, the construction of a mortuary at Mpungu Health Centre was also completed.
In terms of HIV/Aids anti-retroviral treatment (ARV) many Kavango inhabitants are already receiving this treatment.
“ART is fully rolled out to 2 750 patients compared to 1 446 last year,” said Kavango Regional Governor John Thighuru, when giving an update on the latest developments in the region to the Head of State recently.
Sustainable aquaculture also plays a critical role in the development of the Kavango Region where government established such projects at Karovo, Shipapo, Mbambangandu and at Mpungu. All these projects are said to be progressing well.
Furthermore, a fisheries research station is being constructed at Kamutjonga which will be used for research and the development of inland and fresh water fisheries in the whole country.
Besides being a fishing region through aquaculture initiatives, Kavango is also known for its boost in the agricultural sector, making it the breadbasket of the region and the country as a whole.
This is especially evident through Government’s well-established agricultural projects at Shadikongoro, Ndonga-Linena, Vungu-Vungu and other places as part of the green scheme programme.
On its part, Government has already allocated N$300 million to the green scheme project over the next five years in order to enable people to produce enough food and create jobs for themselves.
There are a total of 330 schools in the Kavango Region, but sadly it turns out that 890 under-qualified teachers will be laid off in the region before the end of this year.
Governor Thighuru noted that this will have a negative effect on education in the region as a whole.
Tourism also plays a major role in this region, where the vast majority of inhabitants are very much busy with arts and crafts – which they sell to tourists and visitors alike.
In actual fact working with wood is part and parcel of the living style of many Kavango people, who are all too eager to sell their wooden products with a smile on their face.
Besides crop production in mahangu, maize and sorghum, cattle and goats dominate livestock farming in Kavango.
Although cattle numbers in the region were estimated at 137 000 in 2000, owned by 59% of the households in the region, goat numbers were estimated at about 64 000 in 1998/9, owned by 51% of households in the region.
According to the draft Poverty Profile Report on Kavango, larger and wealthier households own more livestock than homes with smaller incomes and fewer household members.
Other livestock owned include 3 000 pigs, 1 700 donkeys, 1 200 sheep and some 500 horses in 2001.
The numbers of livestock, especially cattle, goats and sheep have recently decreased to 120 168 for cattle, to 50 893 for goats and 410 for sheep,” reads the draft Poverty Profile Report on Kavango
“The change in livestock numbers has been attributed partly to livestock theft that characterised the recent security unrest in the region and the fact that when Angolans moved into Kavango during this time most of them moved with their livestock. Now that the situation has normalised people have returned back to their homes in Angola and have moved back with their livestock,” states the draft report.
When talking about poverty status in the nine constituencies, Mukwe constituency ranked the poorest, followed by Ndiyona as the second poorest, Mashare as the third poorest, Kahenge as the fourth poorest and Rundu Rural East as the “best off” in the rural areas, with Rundu as the urban constituency.
Although there is a migration of people to the urban side of the Kavango, the vast majority of people still live in the rural areas today.
All in all the Kavango Region is known as well for its cultural African drums, huge forest trees, abundant rainfall and ever flowing Kavango River.
“Long live the River people of Kavango!” is the common slogan heard on the streets.