June 20, 2003

Namibia expects one of its worst ever harvests – Caprivi floods are receding

The severe floods in the Caprivi Region, poor rainfall, a shortage of seeds and damage done to crops by elephants and birds have resulted in Namibia expecting one of the worst harvests this year. The latest bulletin of the Namibia Early Warning and Food Information System (Newfis) issued on June 19 forecasts that Namibia will have to import 116 400 tons of cereal this year.

"There were numerous problems that caused poor cereal production this season apart from the dry-spells. It was observed that the lack of rainfall from mid-February through March brought about a situation whereby most late-planted crops could not reach maturity and of those that did, the grains were of poor quality," the bulletin says. It notes that other problems include a shortage of seeds, particularly in the Caprivi and Kavango Regions where most farmers were unable to retain seed from the previous season while drought-relief seed was delivered very late. The Quelea birds were particularly damaging in the Omusati Region while elephants caused havoc - most notably in the Kavango region, the report says. One of the worst blows was the late flooding in the eastern part of the Caprivi Region.

"In Caprivi, the devastating floods in the eastern part towards the end of the season worsened the already poor harvest particularly in areas around Ngoma, Itomba and Bukalo. The flooding aggravated the food insecurity situation as most crops were not harvested by then and consequently perished," the bulletin says.

Crops kept in traditional grain storages were ruined by the floods while some livestock drowned. Others were trapped by water and starving. Quelea birds feeding on late planted crops were reported in the north-central regions of Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and also in the Kavango Region where they led to the reduction in already poor yields.

"There were serious cases of damage by birds in many parts of Omusati region especially in Onesi, Ruacana and Etunda," Newfis says. The unit adds that this year's production of sorghum crop, especially in the Omusati Region, was the worst since Independence because of poor rains that prevented it from reaching grain formation, let alone maturity stage. "The yields for maize this season are the lowest since 1998/99 cropping season, ranging from 40 kg/hectare in Kavango to 160 kg/hectare for Caprivi Region. This is particularly poor for Caprivi given the fact that maize is the staple food crop for the region," the bulletin says.

Given the reduced area planted and the low average yield estimate, the bulletin says coarse grain production was estimated at 91 100 tons, comprising of 32 700 tons of white maize and 58 400 tons of mahangu/sorghum combined. The expected output was about 67 per cent of the 1999/00 production season (135 500 tons). The estimated cereal production, together with operating stocks, give a total availability of 148 700 tons for the 2003-2004 marketing year, made up of 88 500 tons of mahangu/sorghum, 39 500 tons of white maize and 20 700 tons of wheat.

Assuming a projected national population figure of 1,97 million and an average per capita cereal consumption of 125 kg, the national cereal food use was provisionally calculated at 246 300 tons. The deficit is calculated on the difference between the domestic cereal supply of 148 700 tons and domestic utilisation of 246 300 tons. The bulletin said commercial millers planned to import about 116 400 tons, comprising 45 000 tons of wheat and 71 400 tons of white maize. Meanwhile, the International Federation of the Red Cross has said that the emergency situation in the flood-ravaged Caprivi region of Namibia is expected to be over by the end of June. "The floods, which displaced some 12,000 people in the Caprivi region of north-eastern Namibia in the beginning of May, have finally started to subside," the Federation announced.

The floods are said to be the worst in 21 years. "Authorities in the region have reported that the floodwater is receding [in] most places, although a few low-lying areas are still affected to the extent that they are hard to reach. However, most places can now be accessed by road, which makes further relief distributions much easier," the NGO added. The Federation, in support of the Namibian Red Cross, had responded to the disaster by providing and procuring relief material.

However, it warned that remaining pools of stagnant water pose a health risk: Not only are the pools breeding places for mosquitoes and waterborne diseases, but there has been an increase in fly populations in many places. This situation could lead to diarrhoeal, skin and eye infections. The team reported that drinking water is highly contaminated due to poor sanitation and environmental practices. Sample tests on the water conducted by the Health Inspector at Katima Mulilo have shown indications of ecoli content. This implies the presence of human excrement in the water. To fight against this, the Society has distributed water purification tablets to more than 2 000 households, and the supply should last them about four months. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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