African Drought Conference Launched in Namibia

Christine //Hoebes, Deputy Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister of Namibia, officially launched the African Drought Conference in Windhoek, on the 1st of June 2016. Government officials, UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Kiki Gbeho, members of the private sector pledged to unite Africa to strengthen resilience to drought events on the continent.

The conference is scheduled to take place from the the 15th to the 19th of August 2016 with approximately 650 delegates, made up of some of the most prestigious academics in their fields from all over the globe. This conference comes at an opportune time, as East and Southern Africa suffer from the worst recorded drought in the past 50 years, induced by El Nino. Namibia has spent more than N$250 million in the last year on drought food aid.

The need for more conversation and action concerning drought relief has been motivated by the fact that, Namibia was ranked 51 out of 120 countries by the 2014 Global Hunger Index, which measures the levels of hunger in the world’s countries. While Namibia has improved, this ranking still indicates “a serious food problem”.

Critical water shortages are impacting harvests and the livestock industry in the agricultural sector, which sustains about 70 percent of the Namibian population. Continued episodes of drought threaten to unravel the gains made in poverty alleviation, and thus drought is an issue that needs collective response.

In 2015, Drought reduced Namibia’s national crop yields to 46 percent below the sixteen-year average, and as a result, around 370 316 people are estimated to be vulnerable to Hunger in Namibia. According to the World 2015 Report measuring The State of Food Insecurity (FAO, IFAD, WFP), 42.7 percent of the population was undernourished in 2014. This alone indicates the dire need for a more sustainable plan of action to combat these devastating numbers.

Looking beyond Namibia’s borders, Humanitarian and Development partners’ estimate that over 52 million people are food insecure in East and Southern African Countries, and that number could increase. Alarmingly four of the 15 SADC member states have already declared national drought disaster with 2 additional countries having declared partial emergencies.

Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa- Amadhila, in a statement read on her behalf by //Hoebes, said “Namibia is honoured and proud to take the lead in hosting this conference. The hosting of this conference has been endorsed by the recent sixth special session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in April 2016, and the African Union Commission has also given its full backing to this conference.”

“Water resources play a defining role in economic development between and across sectors. Investment in water security is not only a matter of protecting society from specific water risks; it is an investment in enabling economic growth” the Prime Minister said.

UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Gbeho highlighted SDG 13, stating that the goal calls for strengthening resilience to climate change. “To achieve this, addressing climate change will need to be integrated into national planning policies.”

“Education and capacity on climate change will need to be improved. Early warning signs will need to be strengthened.” She continued to say, “There is urgency‘to debate so we can innovate’ when it comes to enhancing resilience to drought,” Gbeho said.

The origin of this conference dates back to Namibia’s successful hosting of the 11th Conference of the Parties (COP11) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in 2013, which resulted in a number of decisions and declarations to enhance the emphasis on addressing drought vulnerability through this convention.

Namibia with support from the UN system is implementing clear policy directives. These include mainstreaming climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, and food and livelihood security, into development planning to ensure limited impacts of drought on the Namibian people.