The other pandemic that we cannot ignore — hunger

Over the past few months we’ve watched with shock and awe as the economy continued to crumble and collapse on all sides. While official statistics have been hard to come by, it is clear that thousands of jobs were lost and many businesses went under.

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A small boy searches for something to eat among discarded rotten tomatoes. Photo: The Namibian

Following four years of economic decline, the coronavirus pandemic has struck lethal blows to the capitalist economy, disrupting production, trade, travel and distribution, wreaking havoc on global supply chains.

In the absence of a viable vaccine for the deadly new strain of coronavirus, it will not be possible to reboot the economy, for every attempt to open up accelerates the collapse of the system.

After shutting down the economy in mid-March, it seems the government now cannot put the toothpaste back into the tube.

The pandemic has meanwhile exposed horrific levels of inequality, neglect and despair as we’ve seen our communities face the double-threat of disease and famine.

Thousands of breadwinners who were previously employed in the tourism and hospitality sectors, in retail, mining, media, fishing and other key sectors, were thrown onto the street by bosses eager to save their businesses at all costs.

Hunger has already ruined more lives than the feared coronavirus.

Here in the Erongo, we’ve had reports of parents handing their children to social workers at the local hospital because they can no longer feed them.

At the end of May, it was reported by residents of Arandis that a woman was hospitalized in Swakopmund to be treated for severe malnutrition. She is said to have died a day later on 25 May, leaving behind two small children.

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A passerby offers some food to a man eating from a discarded watermelon by the side of the road leading into the DRC in northern Swakopmund. Screenshot: The Namibian

Please sign the petition now to demand fish for every household

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Late Oma Lydia Haixuxua. Photo Namibian Sun

Over the past week it was reported that a destitute 91-year old San woman in Ohangwena died alone in her hut last Saturday. A recent photo published by The Namibian Sun of the emaciated old lady leaves no doubt that she was severely and chronically malnourished.

It is no big secret that many households in Namibia face two deadly pandemics — Covid-19 and the hunger pandemic.

Already in 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that over 42% of Namibians were chronically malnourished — that was before the onset of the four-year recession and the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Prior to the economic collapse in 2020 it was not uncommon for destitute people to search the dumpsites for scraps of food. Here women and children are seen at a dumpsite near Opuwo in 2018. Photo New Era.

The link between fishrot and famine

It is a great tragedy that anyone should die of hunger in Namibia, a country which exports vast amounts of fish and beef every year.

In a CNN report that aired in 2015, the former CEO of Erongo Fishing boasted that their company alone exported enough horse mackerel to feed 8 million people every single day — not to mention the vast amounts of hake, monk and other species caught and exported by many other firms on a daily basis.

The fishrot scandal has also revealed the extent to which Namibia’s fish resources are plundered on a daily basis by fishing fleets of multinational companies, such as the Icelandic firm Samherji.

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The scene on board one of Samherji’s three trawlers operating in Namibian waters. Photo: Fishrot Files

But Samherji was only one of many foreign firms who have long had privileged and exclusive access to Namibia’s marine resources, while most local people can hardly remember the taste of fresh fish, for they simply cannot afford it.

By law Namibia’s marine resources belong to the Namibian people. So how is it possible that the owners of the resource cannot access or even afford their own fish?

It is unacceptable that our people should perish from hunger while foreign companies, acting like pirates in Namibian waters (with the help of corrupt politicians) continue to plunder our resources — often without paying tax or declaring the true scale of resources they are extracting from the country.

Fishermen at Walvis Bay say there is a vast amount of fish held in cold storage at the harbor town, which is deteriorating week by week, and would therefore not fetch top prices on the world market. They agree that fish should be distributed to the poor and needy on an urgent basis rather than be left to deteriorate, as many people are going hungry and are at risk of starvation..

It would have been a sign of real solidarity if our political leaders ensured that every Namibian household receives a monthly parcel of fish to help struggling families survive the hunger crisis brought about by the collapse of the economy.

It was Frederick Douglass, the 19th century abolitionist who said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.’

Time to take a stand

It is for this reason that we must now demand from government that emergency measures be put in place to ensure that every Namibian household receives a monthly parcel of fish to ward off the threat of famine. That precious fish belongs to the Namibian people and we must demand a fair share of what is ours.

We must demand that at least 30kg of fish be distributed to every home every month until such time as we have emerged from the hunger crisis.

It would be a mortal sin of grave consequence — indeed a crime of treasonous proportions — to allow our people to perish of hunger while we export the bulk of fish protein abroad. We have the resources to feed all our people. There is enough for everyone’s need but never enough to satisfy the greed of those who control our resources.

Our leaders should remember that the French Revolution of 1789, like the Russian Revolution of 1917, was fueled by the burning hunger of the masses.

They should not imagine that they are immune to the compelling force of history; that they will not be swept aside by the tides of history. They should not imagine that we will stand idly by while our people perish.

Give to the people what belongs to them. Time to act is now.

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* This report is submitted on behalf of Swakopmund Concerned Citizens Association. Click here to sign the petition to demand monthly fish parcels for every Namibian household.

Writer, reporter, activist

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