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WFP, UNICEF Call Namibia a Forgotten Emergency - 2004-05-04

The World Food Program and the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, say about one-third of Namibia's population is facing a humanitarian crisis brought on by three years of drought and intermittent flooding. The agencies call Namibia a forgotten emergency.

Namibia is a country that usually does not ask for international help. It tries to tackle its problems on its own. But this time, U.N. officials say, the government finds it cannot cope with the combined effects of drought, flooding and a run-away HIV/AIDS crisis.

The Namibian government estimates 640,000 people in the seriously affected northern region are in urgent need of food and other assistance.

A World Food Program spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, said the Namibian government is prepared to help most of these people by itself. But, she says it has asked for international assistance to care for 111,000 particularly vulnerable people. The aid will be needed until September, when the government hopes the situation will improve.

But Ms. Berthiaume said an appeal for international funding launched in March has received absolutely no response from donor nations. "It is very sad, especially as it is very targeted appeal - $5.8 million. This is not that much for a short period of time from a country that really tries very hard to deal by itself with its own problem. And, there is a message there that we have to send to these people is that we appreciate that you ask for our help when really you cannot cope with it," she said.

U.N. agencies say they have drawn money from their emergency funds to provide temporary assistance to the Namibian people. But, they say this money has run out and international contributions are urgently needed.

UNICEF reports in some parts of northern Namibia, 43 per cent of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS. It says 10 percent of the country's children are AIDS orphans, and that number is expected to double in six years. The agency says 15 percent of Namibian children under five years of age are chronically or severely malnourished.

UNICEF spokesman, Damien Personnaz, said AIDS has caused Namibian life expectancy to plummet from over 60 years in 1995 to just over 40 years today. He says the future of the country is at stake. "This is a huge problem. The floods and three years of consecutive drought have weakened this specific segment of the population, mainly the most active population and definitely the ones who would be the most active in five to 10 years," he said. But the most urgent need is food. If money is donated, most of it will go to buy food for Namibia's hungry. UNICEF's portion of the funds, some $600,000, will assist half a million people, mainly children and women.

Mr. Personnaz said UNICEF will also immunize children against measles and provide Vitamin A to help children fight off diseases.