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On the brink of a crisis, Cunene struggles for survival

Fri, 17 May 2019 13:20 - Updated Fri, 17 May 2019 17:06

The carcass of an ox in the locality of Oshiwanda, Ombandja municipality Photo: Tarcísio Vilela

Ondjiva - Without rains, pasture and on the verge of a humanitarian crisis. For the last eight months, Cunene has been going through the most severe drought in its history, leaving more than 800,000 families and more than one million cattle on the brink of death.

By  Moisés da Silva


Drought in this southern Angolan province, with an area of 75,955 square kilometres, spreads like a “virus”, sparing no humans, no plants and no animals that scramble, day and night, for the same source of living: water.
Altogether, there are 857,443 people experiencing the effect of the drought and 1.1 million bovines threatened with death, due to hunger or thirst. The lack of rains severely affects subsistence farming.
The fields have almost run out of reserves and hunger is rife. Since October of 2018, the seeds do not germinate and harvest is at stake.

As a result of the lack of rains - a recurrent scourge in southern Angola - 171,488 families are currently in trouble in that province. The above figure represents 79,1 percent of Cunene’s total population, estimated at one 1,1 million inhabitants, most of whom living in the rural area.

Of this population, 59,925 families are based in the municipality of Cahama, 13,105 in Cuanhama, 10,735 in Curoca, 7,686 in Cuvelai, 22,998 in Namacunde and 57,039 in Ombanja, a region just visited on 4 May by the Head of State,  João Lourenço.

Just to have an idea, 299,623 people are suffering from hunger and thirst in Cahama alone (the most severely hit municipality), 65,526 in Cuanhama, 53, 677 in Curoca, 38,432 in Cuvelai, 114,991 in Namacunde and 285,194 in Ombadja.

Due to the drought, 276 schools of various levels of education have been affected, nine of which have closed down, affecting a total 54,500 students who help their parents with herding the cattle.

According to local authorities, 17 schools and 3,031 students have been affected in Cahama, while 186 schools and 39,573 are affected in Cuanhama, and Curoca with 15 schools and 266 students, Cuvelai with four schools and 957 students. Namacunde has 54 schools and 10,003 students affected by the severely dry spell.

As to the cattle, the main economic asset of the province, until 5 May, the drought had affected more than 1.1 million head of cattle.
Of the above cattle, more than 54,152 are in Cahama, 320,000 in Cuanhama, 52,000 in Curoca, 21,283 in Cuvelai, 120,137 in Namacunde and more than 340,000 in Ombadja.
Until now, 26,267 animals have died (at an average of 3,283 head of cattle), among goats and oxen, which has led the central and local authorities into adopting emergency and structuring measures to lessen the impact.

Concerning agriculture, the lack of rains has left more than 205,3 acres of cereals like millet and corn in jeopardy, putting the 2018/2019/2020 farming season at stake.

To make things for the local folks even worse, more than 80,000 tons of their planned production, whose seeds had been sown in October last year were lost. 99,000 peasant families were involved, using only 40 percent of the 205,003 acres planned.

Due to the drought, the supply of water for the agricultural season in Cunene was far from meeting the needs.
As a result, poor feeding hit the rural communities, causing, in nine months, the death of 60 children with ages between zero and five years, due to severe malnutrition, out of 978 cases recorded.

In view of this reality, Cunene lies on the brink of chaos. Without water, its fate is dependent on rains. The authorities fear that, if the situation remains unchanged, the province will collapse, in which case,  governor Virgílio Tyova said, the region will face an unprecedented “true humanitarian disaster”.

He however warned that if the dry spell scenario hangs on as climate projections indicate, “all socio-economic life of the province will be at stake.”
The politician said a water-related hunger and disease crisis looms, in addition to extreme impoverishment of the population.

In order to prevent a worse scenario, Vigílio Tyova says Cunene needs 343,662 tons of assorted foodstuffs and other items to fight the drought.

Altogether, the needs amount to 61,735 tons of millet, corn, maize flour and rice, 15,433 of beans, 1,543  of salt , 30,867 of soya, 10,289 of vegetable oil, 30,867 of dried fish and 7,716 of soap.

Vigílio Tyova added that the needs include Akz 106.7 million (1 Usd is roughly Akz 300) to mobilise the various needed resources and secure the Transhumance Programme, under the Drought Relief Plan.

According to the governor, the money is intended to be used in the hiring of 13 trucks for the transportation of the animals, allowances to 75 specialists, purchase of raw materials for the production of mineral salts, feeding of people in transhumance areas and purchase of fuels.

In order to prevent some diseases resulting from this natural phenomenon, the official said, the province needs 12 containers of 40 kg of calcium hypochlorite each, 2,000 metronidazole tablets, 2,000 doxycycline tablets and 40 batches of oral rehydration salts.

The province is also in need of 1,000 boxes of nutritional supplements, equal amount of “Plunpy’Nut” and 60 tents for schools and medical centres.

In view of the gravity of the situation, governor Virgílio Tyova calls on the public and private business sector to help relieve the suffering of the population.


He said  37 tons of used clothes are also needed for children, teenagers, youths, adults and elderly from the municipalities of Cahama, Curoca, Ombadja, Namacunde, Cuanhama and Cuvelai, to help lessen the effect of the drought in the region.
Great suffering in Curoca
Of Cunene’s six municipalities, Curoca is the one whose population suffers most from hunger and thirst. Therefore, the residents of Ombwa village, in the commune of Oncócua, appeal for urgent food aid in order, to lessen the suffering.

The cry for help comes from Cambodia village chieftain, 71-year old José Mwani, also known as "Tira-mano", who calls on the Government for an urgent attention to the community, with food to relieve the people’s suffering.

"There are no crops in the fields, an indication that hunger will deepen," he says, appealing for Government aid, with such stuffs as millet and corn, mainly to mitigate the consequences of the drought.

The chief also calls for drilling of water wells in the village, to shorten the large distances that people have to walk in search of water to lessen the impact of the drought that threatens to prevail until next year.

Ombwa village administrator, Adriano Samba, says the food situation of the families is also critical, as there are no more stocks, making them to starve. Besides, there is need for salt, oil, cassava or corn flour and other products, he underlines.

"People here are very supportive, they usually share what they have with the needy, including animals. But at this point, nobody has anything and all end up feeding poorly, a situation that is leading to people becoming sick with acute diarrhea, malnutrition and other deceases," says Adriano Samba.


The official points out that the drought has already caused the death of 22 cattle, out of the 3,500 controlled in Ombwa, and others have been transferred to areas that still offer some grazing conditions, so they can survive from the scourge.

Cattle breeder Miguel Katutyi (37), says that the drought has been the biggest problem they face in their activity, and this is one of the worst years, as compared to 2011 and 2012, when many people and animals were also affected by the dry spell.

Miguel Katutyi has already lost 27 head of cattle and the few he is left with he has been selling to buy food to keep the family and also exchange the meat with other products.

Ombala Yo Mungo (municipality of Ombadja) administrator, Portásio Muatilimuno Africa, regrets the lack of water wells or fountains in the locality, forcing the local population to dig 30 to 40 metres boreholes to find water.

"Recently, a young woman died after falling into a water well. This is the way we have been living here where water car tanks scarcely reach the settlements." he lamented.

Surviving the drought
To survive in this environment, cattle keepers have to walk day and night until they find the so called "cacimbas or chimpacas" (water reservoirs) and grass for the animals.

In the process of transhumance (search for pasture), there are those who, in an effort to save their cattle, walk as far as over 100 kilometres, under scorching sun rays or darkness.

Residents and cattle of the 436 localities affected since October 2018 share the suffering and the anguish, walking long distances everyday in search of food and water.

The most fragile animals end up dying on the way and some are killed to feed the shepherds.

In order to avoid further losses, cattle are sold at less than Akz 50,000 (roughly Usd 150), while others are exchanged with various other stuffs.

Now that millet and corn reserves have run out and help is still to arrive, the 171,488 affected families are forced to feed on poorly prepared meat, usually without salt and oil.
The water they consume is also unhealthy, turbid or brackish.

The suffering is great and there is exposure to serious illnesses in the 765 villages affected, where one can only find malnourished, dirty and sick children, and dusty adults, barefoot and in shabby clothes.
Nevertheless, the scarcity has made people even more generous. They share the little water and food that they manage to get, they travel to the same places, they carry similar loads, they risk contracting the same deceases and even die for one another.

To better understand, they rely on the water from ponds and rivers, together they look for areas for cultivation and pasture, and share water containers, hunting implements and food during transhumance.

Animals and people face the same intestinal problems; together they sleep in the open, exposed to wild ferocious animals, and both cattle and women cattle keepers give birth in the field.

Along the way, men carry the calves on their back while oxen and donkeys carry the utensils and newborn babies.

Government seeks solutions
 The drought issue is raising awareness among many in Cunene and nationwide. The Government, chieftains, churches and local communities are struggling to find suitable solutions to mitigate the evils.
The ongoing measures include the supply of water to affected communities, humanitarian assistance through the allocation of foodstuffs, hay for the cattle and others.
 The Government has also made available 25 water tanker trucks to assist 20 localities.
The Angolan President, João Lourenço, who visited the affected regions to assess the situation, approved on 1 April 2019, a package of Usd 200 million for the construction of two dams and 89 water wells.
The said amount is aimed at the construction of a water canal system from Cunene River beginning in Cafu locality, Ombadja municipality, stretching to Shana, Cuamato and Namacunde municipalities, to tackle the drought situation in the province.

The construction of a dam in Calucuve locality (Cuvelai), and another in Ndue, Oshimolo commune, Cuanhama municipality, both estimated to cost Usd 60 million, make up the main projects commissioned by the Head of State.

João Lourenço announced the reinforcement of the Emergency Programme to Combat Drought in Cunene at the end of his visit to Oshiwanda population.

“ My presence here today  is a signal that the Angolan Government is paying attention to what is going on in southern Angola, including Namibe, Cuando Cubango and Huíla, each one at its own scope. We are leaving the region with the impression that we are facing a very critical situation,” said the President at the time.

Following the assessment, the Angolan Government raised to Usd 600 million the amount made available to tackle the drought in the southern provinces of Angola, with a particular attention being paid to Cunene, which counts on an extra four billion Kwanzas to implement the emergency plan.

While awaiting the implementation of the projects, other concrete measures are underway.
Due to the lack of pasture, hundreds of animals, especially oxen and goats, are being relocated
to Lubango, the capital of southern Huíla province.

On the other hand, in addition to the aid with vaccines and distribution of hay (grass for livestock grazing), the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has plans to buy from the breeders a thousand head of cattle for recovery, sending the most vulnerable for slaughter.
It is with these measures that the Angolan Government intends to respond to the cry for help from the people of Cunene, eager for solutions to keep going.

On the "field of action", the reality is hard and the work is intense. With rains or without rains, Cunene is seeking for strength to resist the bad spell.

While the rain does not fall from the skies, people cry out for unconditional support of the Nation, aware that all are few to win this battle.

Children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly cry, day and night, in search of bread and water, to survive. After all, what will happen to Cunene, if the rain remains absent?