Mbuyi Kayembe, a refugee from the DRC, is struggling to provide for his family, who often go hungry at the end of the month. © UNHCR/Willem Vrey

As inflation continues to push up the cost of basic necessities such as food and fuel, refugees in Namibia’s remote Osire settlement are facing stark choices.

Refugees are facing stark choices as unseasonal weather has destroyed crops in Osire. © UNHCR/Willem Vrey
With temperatures in Osire reaching nearly 40 degrees, and water in short supply, refugees are struggling to grow the crops that are a vital source of food and income. © UNHCR/Willem Vrey
Chantal Mwamarakiza, a single mother, is no longer able to grow food to supplement the family’s basic rations of maize and beans. © UNHCR/Willem Vrey
Martin Byendimbwa, chairperson of the Refugee Community Committee of Namibia, fears for the future of refugees in Osire settlement. © UNHCR/Willem Vrey

Just as needs are increasing, aid in the region is under severe pressure due to the sharp increase in fuel and food costs. UN High Commissioner for Refugees recently warned that without an injection of US$700 million in additional funding before the end of the year, UNHCR will be forced to cut vital aid to forcibly displaced people across the world.

In Namibia, the impact of inflation has meant that the budget allocated by UNHCR to fund a year’s worth of food for refugees has lasted only eight months. Osire’s livelihoods project, supporting refugees in small-scale farming and animal-rearing so they can be more self-sufficient, was already cut in September.

Climate change is compounding these challenges. Low rainfall has resulted in a poor harvest: the two acres provided to refugees to farm should already be full of plump watermelons, but without water, the melons have split open before they are fully grown. Rows of onions and corn are withered and burnt. Half of the settlement’s boreholes have run dry.

“Here in the desert, if we don’t have food, we cannot survive,” says single mother Chantal Mwamarakiza, who was forced to flee Burundi when her husband was beaten to death. The refuge she has found in Namibia is now uncertain as the seasonal rains are yet to arrive and soaring temperatures are undermining her ability to support her family. “We are cultivating our gardens but the water has run dry so nothing will grow. I have to sell my rations of beans and maize for other kinds of food for the children and sometimes I don’t have money for them to go to school.”

Martin Byendimbwa, chairperson of the Refugee Community Committee of Namibia and an active advocate for his fellow refugees, echoes these concerns.

“The problem is inflation,” he says. “The price of a bag of maize meal, our staple food, keeps going up. I am grateful to the Government of Namibia for giving us this settlement but without the right to employment, we can’t support ourselves and we can’t make use of our education.”

“I’m crying for my children’s future.”

The head of UNHCR’s office in Namibia Bernadette Muteshi is concerned about the consequences of underfunding for refugees. “Our budget has plummeted, which is why we have to take tough decisions to cut services,” she explains. “We’re only giving basic rations which only last for three weeks of the month. We don’t have extra funds to give more support to those in need like pregnant and nursing mothers, or people living with HIV and AIDS. Refugees are left to make up the shortfall and they are struggling because of the drought.

“We desperately need donors to help support this population with immediate and sustainable assistance. Not doing that will mean they are left behind. It’s heart-breaking.”

At the UN’s Climate Conference, COP27, being held this month, the UN Secretary General is calling for the international community to protect the most vulnerable from the ravages of the climate emergency. Still suffering the aftershocks of brutal conflict and now facing food insecurity, without urgent intervention, Namibia’s refugees are at risk of becoming a forgotten population.

“I’m crying for my children’s future,” says Mbuyi. “I can see my future is darker because of the years that are passing. I lost my whole life. I studied mechanics but I don’t have a job. I’m praying for my kids to not to have a life like mine.”

Originally published by UNHCR on 17 November 2022.

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