While drought is the world’s costliest natural disaster and affects more people than any other form of natural disaster, for Namibia it is a critical issue.
Two billion people are residing in dryland areas, which constitute an estimated 41% of the world’s surface of which Namibia is a part. Although the impacts from drought cut across the whole society, the poorest of the poor and rural communities are especially vulnerable to drought and are affected by increased food insecurity, hunger descending into deeper poverty associated with drought.
This is the stark reminder of deputy minister of Environment and Tourism, Tommy Nambahu. He was one of the key-note speakers at the launch of the African Drought Conference in Windhoek last week. Nambahu said severe drought events have the potential to reverse the positive environmental impacts achieved through sustainable rangeland management and agricultural practices.
“Due to climate change and associated effects, the duration, intensity and spatial extent of droughts are expected to increase further in the coming decades,” he noted. He said unfortunately, to date, most countries continue to pursue emergency and recovery strategies and respond only after droughts have taken their toll. Such reactive and “piecemeal” approaches are not only ineffective but also unsustainable. Proactive and “risk-based” national drought management policies and practices would greatly assist countries to build societal resilience to drought.
“In terms of the importance of the Rio Conventions for national development, we need to acknowledge that drought is a complex physical and social process,” he said. Drought is normally defined in three ways: an extended period of below normal rainfall, a long term depletion of groundwater, or the stunting of vegetation growth due to lack of water.
Regarding issues that speak to the challenges under the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) meteorological drought has been observed and experienced. This type of drought is often marked by a period of substantially diminished precipitation duration or intensity. Secondly there is hydrological drought that particularly relates to the ecosystem services which occurs when there is running down of surface water leading to very low stream flow and drying of lakes, rivers and reservoirs. “The next challenging effect of drought is agricultural drought which is linked to various characteristics of meteorological or hydrological drought to agricultural impacts, focusing on precipitation shortages, differences between actual and potential evapotranspiration, soil water deficits, reduces ground water or reservoir levels. We are now feeling the effects from each of these droughts,” Nambahu observed.
Namibia leads a number of negotiations under Climate Change, Biodiversity and Combating desertification, land degradation and drought issues on the international area. “The question we need to ask ourselves tonight is, how best can we address issues of policy coherence? How best can we integrate relevant issues of poverty eradication and food security in sectoral/development policy making? Are we politically committed to push for the right agendas, incentives and resource mobilisation for the development of matters that threaten the development of our nation? Are we willing to acknowledge and delegate or be inclusive in our call if we lack the necessary leadership,?” he pondered.
These are the key issues that will assist in national ownership and leadership of the strategic agenda for drought resilience in Namibia and the rest of Africa. “We need enhanced inclusiveness and the participation of every Namibian, including farmers, private sector, youth and civil society. To this end, we are seriously challenged with the effects of drought be they economic, environmental and social,” said Nambahu.
He went on that unemployment and job insecurity may increase, factories may have to lower their production, food prices increase, farming land becomes more over grazed leading to increased migration, water becomes ever more scarce with less food production as the rainfall patterns change every year.
“This calls for action, immediate action on the national level and that is why we need everyone on board. Our livelihoods are threatened and so is industry and national development. It is time for Namibia as a nation to enhance and put early warning systems for the control of droughts and other long term measures to allow us to cope with the severity of drought.” Nambahu added that there was a need to increase and continue to find ways how to use water from all sources, i.e., rainfall, surface and underground water, construction of desalination plants, tanks, ponds, reservoirs and well.
All these are to provide irrigation facilities as appropriate, lining of canals and distributaries to minimize water losses. We need new and innovative water saving farming techniques, water conservation schemes, and we must develop and expand good horticultural and sustainable rangeland management practices,” said Nambahu.
The commitment and attempts made over the years are not easy and fundamentally they require a game-changing shift in in the management of risk and in addressing chronic vulnerability in the country and the African region as a whole. “We must work quickly to ensure that the next inevitable drought does not force families to leave their homes or children to starve,” he concluded.
By Deon Schlechter