Women and children have relocated from their villagers to survive by scavenging on the dumpsite at Opuwo for scraps of stale food and other valuables for their survival.
Among those who frequent the dumpsite are mainly children from the so-called Katutura informal settlement.
The youngest of the lot seeking a lifeline at the dumpsite is a 9-month-old baby on her mother’s back. The majority are teenagers who inherited this survival skills from their parents whom they saw foraging on the dumpsite when they were still young children.
It is almost midday, and a group of women and children sit under a tree waiting for a truck to dispose of waste – their only food source. They jump up at every sound of a car, hoping for a meal, or at least some discarded groceries or expired cosmetics.
By midday, only one truck has arrived to dispose of baking flour at the place these teenagers call their ‘shopping centre’.
“It is still too early to leave; more trucks will come,”said 12-year-old Uauanisa Tjiharukua.
Tjiharukua said she has been coming to collect food at the dumpsite since she was just a little girl.
“I have been eating from the dumpsite since I was a little child; my parents used to collect food here,” she said.
They come to the dumpsite every day, except on Sunday when they go to church.
Watoorora Muharukua and her two children relocated from Etanga, a 100 km from Opuwo.
Muharukua said the persistent drought in the region left them with no means of survival, which is why they relocated to Opuwo to feed on the dumpsite.
They say those who dispose of the food warn them against consuming it because it has usually expired.
“But what can one do, so while they are offloading we grab what we can before they burn the waste,” Ndumewa Hepute, who also relocated from Etanga, told New Era.
Although they have survived on eating from the dumpsite, they do not recall becoming sick because of eating spoilt food.
They say they have also not received drought relief food for months.
Governor of Kunene region Angelika Muharukua confirmed that some residents of Opuwo survive by mining the dumpsite for stale or rotten food in worst-case scenarios.
“It is no secret that people are hungry. Kunene has not received sufficient rain for almost eight years and even if they received drought relief food it is not sufficient to sustain them for the rest of the month,” Muharukua said.
She further pointed out that drought relief food sometimes does not arrive in the region on time, and when it does the absence of access roads delays delivery of food to people.
Government has initiated several initiatives to feed the destitute, but despite this, it has done little to stop the resurgence in dumpsite scavenging.
President Hage Geingob has made the fight against hunger one of his key priorities and has rolled out the food bank initiative where the ultra-poor receive free food on a regular basis.
The food bank concept has only been piloted in Khomas Region so far, but the President said in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) recently that there are plans to roll it out to other parts of the country. Kunene, mainly home to pastoral communities, is the worst drought-affected region in the country.