Hopes pinned on Africa drought conference

by Deon Schlechter

Windhoek

With southern Africa still in the grips of the worst drought in 35 years caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, some 650 delegates from the continent are expected to converge on Windhoek before August 15 for the Africa Drought Conference.

Local government, role players and producers – indeed the whole continent – will have their hopes pinned on the conference where international gurus will discuss how to enhance resilience against recurrent droughts.



The conference, organised by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, is set for August 15-19 and will identify needs and shortcomings of African countries to improve their resilience to drought.

It will also look into the role of drought-resistant crops, adaptive strategies for drought-affected rural communities, developing safety nets and the possibility of establishing a global trust fund for drought events.

Delegates will discuss short-, medium- and long-term drought preparedness, mitigation and adaptation measures in order to formulate a strategic framework for drought management across Africa.

President Hage Geingob is expected to officially open a high level segment of the conference that will be attended by ministers and United Nations experts.

“The Africa Drought Conference Namibia is hosting will look at solutions to enhance our preparedness for droughts,” said Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta.

Shifeta told the National Assembly recently that it is no longer acceptable for Namibians to be caught unawares by drought, as they are set to become even more frequent.

Currently, most African countries remain inadequately prepared to cope with and adapt to drought, an ever more frequent event in the wake of climate change.

About 23 million people in 10 sub-Saharan countries require immediate humanitarian aid to cope with the effects of the drought. These include Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, all members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has 15 member states.

South Africa has declared a drought emergency in eight of its nine provinces.
With 10 member states in dire need for assistance, SADC has now appealed internationally for US$2,4 billion to support efforts to bring relief to the drought-affected communities.

The drought has caused crop failure and poor harvests, with about nine million tonnes production shortfall in the region. Zambia is the exception, with some 835 000 tonnes surplus in cereal production this year.

According to the SADC Regional Humanitarian Appeal launched in June, approximately 640 000 livestock died as a result of the drought in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe due to lack of grazing, lack of water and disease outbreaks.

In Namibia, more than 600 000 people need drought relief assistance. The government recently declared a state of drought emergency and announced that about N$655 million is needed for drought aid until March 2017.

Geingob last month appealed to the international community for drought relief assistance during a meeting with accredited diplomats in Windhoek.

Deputy Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Christine //Hoebes recently launched the conference where government officials, representatives of the United Nations, embassies in Namibia and the private sector pledged to unite Africa during the conference to enhance resilience to drought events on the continent and to improve the lives of its peoples, create employment and eradicate poverty.

Namibia has spent more than N$250 million since last year on drought food aid and a few weeks ago SADC declared a regional disaster, while East Africa is suffering its worst drought in 60 years and the UN has declared a famine in Somalia.

It was agreed Namibia should take the lead and host the historic conference after a meeting last year between President Geingob and UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) executive secretary Monique Barbut.

The key objective of the conference is to develop a strategic framework for drought management and enhancing resilience to drought events at continental level.

Other objectives include: focusing regional and international attention on the issue of enhancing resilience to drought events; encouraging African countries to develop their short-, medium- and long-term drought mitigation and adaptation measures/interventions and plans, strengthening partnerships and cooperation for enhanced drought resilience, and developing a strategic framework for drought management and enhancing resilience to drought events at the African level.

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