By Wezi Tjaronda
The programme of food distribution to orphans and vulnerable children in six north and north-eastern regions comes to an end at the end of April.
But the Namibian Government and the United Nations World Food Program signed a letter of understanding signalling the start of a two-year food assistance programme for 111 000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in Omusati, Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Oshana, Kavango and Caprivi regions, which were identified as the hardest hit because of their high HIV prevalence rate, which has increased the number of OVC.
In three of the regions – Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto – one in every 10 children relies on one parent for support.
When the food programme started in 2006, 28 000 OVC were enrolled on the grant system which is disbursed through the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare. By end April when the last food will be distributed, it is expected that 65 106 children will be on the system.
This represents an increase of 37 000 children in the last two years.
Although not all the 110 000 children that are receiving the food aid will be enrolled, WFP Country Director John Prout said most of the children that are technically eligible to receive the grant are receiving it.
“I think most of the eligible ones are getting the grant,” he said.
In total, 91 983 children are now receiving government child welfare grants nationwide unlike four years ago, when only 7 000 children were on the system.
During the two-year food operation, WFP provided 16 400 metric tonnes of food, including maize meal, corn-soya blend, vegetable oil and beans which cost N$72 million.
The assistance came as a result of an appeal for food assistance to the WFP in 2003, to have Namibia integrated into the UN agency’s regional operation for southern Africa which provided food to populations that are vulnerable to food insecurity and the impact of HIV/AIDS.
The understanding then was that although Namibia has good infrastructure for delivery of goods to retail outlets, soaring commodity prices left people with no means to buy foodstuffs.
With crumbling support systems due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many families are unable to cope with additional members to their families.
WFP re-established its country office in Namibia in 2005 to strengthen support to OVC through an intervention that would help alleviate the chronic hunger and under-nutrition among many orphans and vulnerable children.
According to statistics, 24 percent of Namibia’s under-five children are chronically malnourished while nine percent are acutely malnourished.
Namibia had 156 000 orphans under the age of 18 years in 2001. It is projected that by 2021, the number of orphans under the age of 15 years will increase to 250 000.
The ministry and WFP worked with Catholic Aids Action (CAA), the Namibian Red Cross Society, regional councils and ELCIN Aids Action to deliver the food to the needy children.