Villagers Face Food Shortages

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By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK Disaster-prone Caprivi is on the brink of a vicious drought that is compounded by herds of marauding wild animals from an exploding elephant population that has devoured maize and other staple crops, depriving communal farmers of food. Surrounded by the Chobe National Park that teems with a significant elephant herd and Caprivi’s resident jumbo herd, there is a perennial conflict between villagers and these wild animals that frequently lose their natural habitat to growing human settlements. Villagers along the eastern floodplain are displaced by floods on a seasonal basis while those on the eastern part grapple with wild animals that devastate whole fields. And these roaming beasts appear to have conspired with nature because the recent rainy season was erratic though record flooding has been documented, and in Sibbinda constituency elephants devastated crops causing food insecurity. It appears the whole region faces similar food insecurity because of the elephants. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage the situation and to avert an imminent humanitarian disaster the ruling Swapo Party Councillor for Sibbinda Felix Mukupi wants an audience with Prime Minister Nahus Angula so that he can thoroughly brief him on the problem. But yesterday the Acting Director of the Emergency Management Unit (EMU) Gabriel Kangowa said a multi-sectoral unit has already visited the Caprivi and Kavango regions and is currently in the northern regions to ascertain the extent of the crop damage and failure. He explained that the team led by the Planning Section in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry includes regional agriculture extension officers, EMU and the Weather Bureau. It would submit its findings to the National Emergency Management Committee. And in turn the National Emergency Management Committee chaired by Frans Kapofi, the Secretary to Cabinet would analyze the findings and make its submission to cabinet “pending what would be in the report,” said Kangowa who is still in Caprivi. Two days ago, the fact-finding team interviewed several indunas and the ngambela of the Mafwe tribe at the Chinchimani khuta where they were informed about the crop damage attributed to elephants. This problem cropped up at Choi when they met the chief. The team is going to quantify all the crop losses – whether they are caused by marauding animals, floods or drought that in the past saw tens of thousands of people receiving drought food. “It looks like everywhere in this region people are complaining of wild animals having completely destroyed their crops. It appears it is a general problem in Caprivi,” he explained, adding elephants also extensively devastated crops at one village in Kavango. Two days ago, the team was in Ombalantu to ascertain the extent of the crop failure. And Mukupi said he also had an audience with Willem Konjore, the Minister of Environment and Tourism, to find out what assistance the ministry could render. In a wide-ranging interview, he said on a daily basis villagers who lost their crops to marauding elephants have inundated his office with complaints with some mandating the councillor to find out from Konjore what assistance his ministry could render to villagers whose crops have been devoured by herds of elephants from nearby parks. “Our people do not want to be arrested for poaching these animals but they want the Minister of Environment and Tourism to assist them in whichever way. Otherwise, they are going to starve because the elephants ate all their crops,” he told New Era. Faced with empty granaries, those deprived of food by the free-roaming wild animals have made an impassioned appeal to the minister to visit them so that they can suggest what assistance would alleviate their suffering in the best way possible. He said the constituent office in Sibbinda has started registering hundreds of orphans for monthly child grants of up to N$200 or a minimum of N$100, which are being disbursed to qualifying orphans by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare. The politician says the issue of orphans is one of the problems he has to grapple with because their numbers are unfortunately growing on a daily basis. Sirkka Ausiku, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, confirmed her ministry has set a target this year alone to register up to 40 000 orphans, including those currently being registered in Sibbinda, to start receiving grants. Already the ministry pays grants to a record 64 000 orphans and if the 40 000 are registered successfully this would push the figure to 104 000 beneficiary children. Caprivi has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and is regarded as the most under- developed, in part because in the past some people blocked development through invoking ancestral land rights in the communal areas where projects could have taken shape.